Without continued federal protection, wolves may never return to the southern Rockies
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Federal biologists have confirmed by DNA analysis that the animal killed by a coyote hunter near Kremmling last month was an endangered gray wolf.
The hunter notified state wildlife managers immediately, claiming that he though the animal was a coyote. The incident is being investigated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the USFWS.
Check out the discussion thread on this the Colorado Mule Deer Association’s Facebook page to get a sense of peoples’ attitudes about wolves in Colorado.
According to the CPW, the shooting happened on BLM land near Wolford Mountain Reservoir in Grand County.
Wildlife advocates said the shooting shows the need for continued protection for wolves, which are just starting to recolonize historic habitat after nearly being exterminated during the settlement era.
The last native Colorado wolf was trapped and killed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Conejos County in southern Colorado in 1945.
“This is a tragic circumstance and a teachable moment,” said Jonathan Proctor, Defenders of Wildlife. “Wolves have been absent from Colorado for 70 years … This wolf’s return to Colorado is an example of what gray wolf recovery should look like: animals naturally dispersing back to their historic habitat,” Proctor said
“But, even as wolves disperse to Colorado, they won’t survive here unless state wildlife agencies take a more proactive role in educating hunters and local residents about the potential presence of wolves, their status as a protected species and how to tell the difference between wolves and coyotes,” he said.
“This incident also reinforces the critical need for continued federal protections for gray wolves. Removing federal protections would make it less likely that wolves would be able to establish new packs in areas outside their current range, essentially halting wolf recovery into western and southern Colorado in its tracks.”
Wildlife biologists know there’s plenty of good wolf habitat in western Colorado, and the state wildlife agency has developed a provisional wolf management plan in case the predators establish a population.
The Center for Biological Diversity compiled and analyzed studies that identified 359,000 square miles of additional habitat for gray wolves in 19 of the lower 48 states that could significantly boost the nation’s 40-year wolf recovery efforts.
The study indicated the gray wolf population could be doubled to around 10,000 by expanding recovery into areas researchers have identified as excellent habitat in the southern Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon area, Northeast and West Coast.
The report also documents 56 instances over 30 years where wolves have dispersed from existing core recovery areas to states where they have yet to reestablish, including Colorado, Utah, California, New York, Massachusetts and Maine.
According to Defenders of Wildlife, up to two million gray wolves once roamed North America. The animals were driven to near-extinction in the lower-48 states by the mid-1900s.
After passage of the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973 and protection of the wolf as endangered, federal recovery and reintroduction programs resulted in the rebound of wolf populations in limited parts of the country.
About 5,500 wolves now live in the lower-48 states, spread across about 36 percent of their suitable range.
Places like the Grand Canyon, Olympic Peninsula in Washington, western Oregon, much of western Colorado, northern California and parts of Utah could all be a home to wolves once again, bringing both ecological and economic benefits to local communities.
The USFWS has proposed delisting wolves, a move that has been challenged in court. If the delisting proposal goes through, management of wolves would be determined by individual states