Tuesday, July 19, 2016

CPW: Wolf-sighting reports are on the rise in Colorado

by Collin Szewczyk, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

The roar from the Roaring Fork River may soon duet with the primeval howl of the grey wolf.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Monday issued a statement on wolves in Colorado, noting that “it is increasingly likely that the growing wolf populations and range in nearby states will eventually expand across state lines.”

The agency cited a recent increase in unconfirmed sightings, as well as confirmed sightings over the past few years, as a reason for speaking out.

Through hunting and trapping, the apex predators were eradicated in the state in the mid-1930s. The last Colorado wolves were killed in the early 1940s.

State wildlife officials have long contended that wolves are no longer part of Colorado’s ecosystem.

But the increase in alleged sightings prompted CPW to issue the statement on wolves and stress that they are protected in Colorado under the Endangered Species Act.

"Wolves are known to travel long distances and we expect that they will continue to come into the state on their own. We have a duty to let the public know about this possibility to help prevent someone from accidentally killing a wolf," said Bob Broscheid, CPW director, in a prepared statement. "Identifying the target and the species you are hunting is critical and a major tenet of safe and ethical hunting. Whether you are a trapper, or an elk hunter, deer hunter, coyote hunter or a landowner protecting livestock from predators, you must be sure of your target before you take any animal."

The agency noted that its wildlife managers travel throughout the state to “classify big game, but none have observed wolf packs, dens or any other evidence wolves exist at the population level in Colorado. Wildlife managers believe that is likely to change in the near future and are preparing for the eventual establishment of wolf populations in the state.”

Last year, a hunter shot and killed a wolf near Wolford Mountain Reservoir, just north of Kremmling. That hunter claimed he thought the animal was a coyote, but it was later positively identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists as a wolf.

Illegally hunting a wolf in Colorado brings stiff penalties of up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

But that hunter was not charged by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after it determined that he was hunting legally and did not intentionally kill the wolf. The man also immediately reported the incident to CPW, the statement notes.

A wolf was also killed by a vehicle on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs in 2004. In 2007, CPW wildlife officers recorded a video a few miles north of Walden, along the state’s northern border, of an animal believed to be a wolf. In 2009, a radio-collared gray wolf was found dead north of Rifle. Last year, a trail camera captured photos of an animal that appears to be a wolf near Walden.

Reported sightings in the state have included “observations of large wolf-like animals, scat and tracks,” CPW said. Unconfirmed reports of wolf howls have also been brought to CPW’s attention.

"Although it remains rare, a credible sighting now and then cannot be considered highly unusual anymore," Broscheid said. "I believe it is only a matter of time before they begin to move here in larger numbers and we must prepare for that eventuality."

In 2004, CPW developed a Colorado Wolf Management Plan, which was adopted by the Colorado Wildlife Commission in 2005. The plan details Colorado's management strategy when wolves become established in the state, CPW noted.

In January, the CPW commission supported a resolution that “opposes the intentional release of any wolves into Colorado.”

The commission had three options before it: One that opposed any introduction of the Mexican grey wolf into the state; the second, which was adopted, that opposed both Mexican wolves as well as intentional release of grey wolves; and taking no action. Alternative two was selected on a 7-4 vote.

Wolves in Colorado are under federal management by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and delisting them from Endangered Species Act protections would be the only way they could fall under CPW’s purview. Even then, a reintroduction plan would have to be passed in the state Legislature.

The public is urged to report any sighting of wolves in Colorado to CPW by filling out an online Wolf Sighting Form at www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/Wolf-Sighting-Form.aspx.

For more information about wolves, visit www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/SOC-Wolves.aspx.