What is considered wolf habitat?
Wolves are habitat generalists, meaning they do not have specific habitat requirements that determine where they can live. As long as prey is available, wolves can use a variety of areas.
How will wolves impact Colorado’s ungulate populations?
Wolves consume approximately 7-10 pounds of meat per day on average. In some other areas where wolves exist at a sustainable population level, there have been localized impacts to ungulate populations. Elk, moose, and deer are primary prey species for wolves. However, wolves are opportunistic hunters. Wolf populations would need to be established for an extended period before we can evaluate the extent to which they impact populations of prey species in Colorado.
I’ve heard that elk/deer herds are struggling in areas and the agency is doing a lot of research to understand why. How would wolves play into that?
Wolves would be one of many factors that may influence ungulate population dynamics. It is impossible to predict precisely how wolves would impact Colorado ungulate populations on either a local, regional or statewide scale. Mule deer populations in portions of western Colorado have declined significantly unrelated to wolves, causing concerns within CPW and its many constituencies who depend upon or enjoy mule deer. Recognizing the need for action, CPW embarked on a comprehensive public engagement effort to gather input for developing the West Slope Mule Deer Strategy to guide future management actions.
Colorado has the largest elk herd in the world. Does it matter if wolves eat a few?
The statewide elk population is stable; the 2018 estimate is 287,000. CPW has intentionally reduced some elk populations to achieve population objectives set for those herds. Currently, 22 of 42 (52 percent) elk herds are still above their current population objective ranges. However, some herds remain below the established population objective. Public perception of the desired number of elk in Colorado varies.
Elk research and continued management changes such as reductions in cow elk hunting licenses are necessary since elk calf production remains low in many herds.
See more information about the status of elk populations in Colorado.
As wolves become more established on the landscape, CPW will adjust its research and management efforts to address these questions.
Are wolves more likely to increase or decrease the severity of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Colorado?
The geographic distributions of wolves and chronic wasting disease in the United States have overlapped little until fairly recently, so this interaction has not been much studied empirically. It is not possible to say with certainty the extent to which wolves will or will not reduce the prevalence of CWD in specific areas of Colorado.
Beneficial effects have been suggested by modeling, but have yet to be demonstrated. If wolves selectively killed and adequate number of CWD-infected animals, then this would help suppress the disease. We know that infected deer and elk are more vulnerable to predation (including non-human and hunting “predation”) than healthy animals. We also know that selectively culling infected deer from a herd can reduce prevalence and that “predation” (from hunting or culling) can help suppress CWD. But we don’t know whether wolves would be sufficiently abundant to measurably suppress the disease. Mountain lions selectively kill CWD-infected deer, yet their presence has not prevented increases in prevalence in some areas. Even if wolves do not selectively kill CWD-infected animals, it is possible that predation or scavenging by wolves could help reduce environmental contamination with the prion that causes CWD thus potentially reducing prevalence.
Studies have shown that passing CWD-infected elk brain tissue through the coyote digestive tract reduced the amount of prions available to cause infection. Whether wolves would also reduce the prion load in carcass tissues they consume has not been studied. Nor can we evaluate the extent to which wolves, through extensive landscape movement, could introduce prions to areas where CWD is not known to exist, and if they do, to what extent that poses a risk of increased disease distribution or prevalence.
While predation will not eliminate CWD from deer or elk populations, predators that selectively prey on infected animals would be expected to reduce the number of infections. This would be more likely in areas where wolves are well established.
While reduction of the prevalence of CWD is an important and achievable objective, we do believe that it is not feasible for CWD to be eliminated from Colorado.
If impacts to deer and elk are noticed at a high enough level, how will wolves be managed to mitigate those impacts?
All consideration for impacts to wildlife populations will help inform the range of management options for wolves in Colorado.
What impacts do wolves have on other predatory species, like lions, bears, coyotes or foxes? How common is it for wolves to prey on mountain lions/bears/coyotes in areas with high predator densities?
Wolves do have a tendency to displace other canids like coyotes and foxes, but not lions or bears.
Different combinations and densities of predator and prey species, terrain, vegetation, climate, land-ownership patterns and land uses result in different ecological relationships. It is difficult to predict how the interactions will play out. It is not common for wolves to prey on other carnivore species.
What impacts have states with wolves witnessed and how have those impacts been handled?
Other states have noted that both big game distribution and habitat use by big game animals can be impacted by wolves. Additionally:
“How much, where, and how wolves impact prey varies through space and time. Wolves like mountain lions, coyotes and bears eat deer, elk, moose, and other game animals. Research in Montana and elsewhere has shown that predation may influence deer, elk and moose populations through changes in the survival of young and adult animals or a combination of both. In Montana, elk numbers in some areas have declined, due in part to wolf predation. Yet in other areas where wolves and elk interact, elk numbers are stable or increasing. Habitat, weather patterns, human hunting, the presence of other large predators in the same area and the presence of livestock seasonally or year-round are important factors, too. Wolf predation by itself does not initiate declines in prey populations, but it can exacerbate declines or lengthen periods of prey population rebounds. Research in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere has shown that elk use habitats differently since wolves have returned. One study showed that when wolves are in the local area, elk spend less time in open areas and more time in forested areas. However, extrapolation of this potential effect to broad landscapes should not be made. Hunters may need to adjust their strategies in areas where wolves exist.”
From Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
There have been a lot of studies about how wolves impacted ecosystems in other parts of the country. What will that look like in Colorado?
As stated above, it's difficult to extrapolate results from other studies in localized areas to presume what the impacts might be in Colorado. Many recent papers suggest that the statements of ecosystem level effects are overstated. Wolf reintroduction in Colorado will create a unique opportunity for a wealth of research on how wolves may navigate more populated areas, how the species adapts to the effects of a changing climate, and potential roles in disease control or ecological impacts on the Colorado landscape.