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Colorado won’t release more wolves until December, wildlife officials say

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by Chase Woodruff, Colorado Newsline
January 22, 2024

The inaugural “capture season” in Colorado’s ambitious program to reintroduce gray wolves to the wild is officially over, state officials said Friday.

A total of 10 wolves were captured in Oregon by Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff, airlifted to Colorado and released in Grand and Summit counties last month, fulfilling the first step in a reintroduction plan mandated by a voter-approved 2020 ballot measure. No further releases will occur until at least December of this year, CPW officials said.

“After an incredibly successful first release of wolves from Oregon last month, our focus will be on refining our internal processes, continuing the work we’re already doing to bolster our staff expertise and honing our notification structure so the public is well informed regarding release efforts, while also balancing the need for the safety and security of staff and gray wolves,” CPW director Jeff Davis said in a press release.

Gray wolves are native to Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states, but were hunted to near-extinction by settlers and ranchers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Conservationists and ecologists have backed reintroduction efforts like the one pioneered in Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s, while ranching and hunting interests have fueled a new backlash to reestablished wolf populations. Colorado’s program is the first to be mandated by a ballot measure — Proposition 114, which was approved by a narrow 51% to 49% margin in 2020.

CPW officials secured an initial 10 wolves through an agreement reached last year with their counterparts in Oregon, and completed the releases between Dec. 18 and 22.

formal reintroduction plan approved by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission last year calls for the capture and release of 10 to 15 wolves per year over the next three to five years, with an initial target of a stable population of at least 50 animals within the state. Ranchers who lose livestock to confirmed wolf depredations are eligible for compensation from the state, while the federal government has granted a special exemption to the Engaged Species Act that allows for lethal control, as well as “injurious nonlethal” methods and “intentional harassment,” against wolves who threaten livestock.

Other states with established wolf populations, including Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, pointedly declined to assist Colorado’s efforts. But CPW announced on Friday that they have reached an agreement with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation to source up to an additional 15 wolves for the 2024-25 capture season.

The Colville Reservation encompasses more than 4,440 square miles in northeast Washington state and was home to six of the state’s 37 known wolf packs as of December 2022, according to a state report.

“The Colville Tribes is very pleased to partner with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to restore the wolf population in Colorado,” Jarred-Michael Erickson, chairman of the Confederated Tribes, said in statement. “The Colville people strongly believe in preserving our environment, including its fish and animals. We are thrilled that our restoration efforts on our own lands have progressed far enough that we can share some of these magnificent creatures with the citizens of Colorado.”

This article is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.