DENVER — The initial release of gray wolves in Colorado as part of the state's voter-mandated reintroduction effort will begin anytime between Friday and the end of the year.
Friday, Dec. 8 marks the first possible day that Colorado Parks and Wildlife can put gray wolves on the Colorado landscape, however, the department has until Dec. 31 to do so. CPW said it is on track to release the wolves before then.
The Dec. 8 date stems from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement on Nov. 7 about it finalizing the designation of an experimental population of gray wolves in Colorado under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This federal ruling, which gives CPW greater flexibility when it comes to managing the wolf population, goes into effect on Dec. 8.
"With the 10(j) rule going into effect, we have the final rule in place granting us the ability to begin implementing our gray wolf reintroduction plans," CPW posted on social media. "Wildlife operations are not on the same timeline as other processes, and while 10(j) is an important step in the reintroduction, Dec. 8 is not an official release date."
The exact date and location for the wolves' release is not publicly available, however, CPW said it will likely be within the northern circle in the map below, which was published in the Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan released in May. The animals will be young but of breeding age.
The wolves will come from northwest Oregon, where they are most abundant in the state, and where their removal will not impact any conservation goals, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Curt Melcher.
Fifteen CPW staff members will go to Oregon to get the wolves this month and fly them back to Colorado, according to CPW. During a CPW Commission meeting in August, Reid DeWalt, CPW assistant director of Aquatic, Terrestrial, and Natural Resources, said he hopes snow is on the ground so capture operations go smoothly.
CPW said it plans to release more wolves January through March.
“We’re not done at the end of December," DeWalt said in the August meeting. "We will release wolves all through the winter up until the middle of March."
All 20 radio collars CPW has ordered for the new wolves have already arrived.
CPW said its primary goal with this reintroduction plan is "to recover and maintain a viable, self-sustaining wolf population in Colorado, while concurrently working to minimize wolf-related conflicts with domestic animals, other wildlife, and people."
This effort began in the summer of 2019, when the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Project began circulating petitions asking voters to put a question on the 2020 ballot asking if wolves should be reintroduced. This went on to become Proposition 114. In the November 2020 state election, voters chose to pass Proposition 114, which mandated that CPW develop a plan to start reintroducing and managing gray wolves in western Colorado and to take steps to begin reintroductions by Dec. 31, 2023.
CPW's website page titled "Living with Wildlife" lists ways to avoid conflict with several large animals, such as elk, goats, bear, moose, mountain lions and, now, gray wolves. A PDF brochure dated Nov. 21, 2023 is now available for those wanting to further educate themselves on the animals.
Like many predators, wolves tend to avoid people and are very unlikely to approach a person. The brochure, titled "Living with Wolves," provides detailed actions on what to do if a wolf responds to a person's actions, noting that each situation and animal is unique:
- Do not approach a wolf
- If you surprise a wolf, give it an escape route
- Keep an eye on the wolf to see where it is going and how it is acting. Make eye contact so it knows you have seen it
- Talk calmly and firmly
- If you have a dog, keep it away from the wolf and try to keep the dog from acting aggressively
- Stand upright and back away slowly (toward a vehicle or shelter, if available)
- If you cannot retreat, stand your ground, face the wolf and try to appear as large as you can (ex. raise your arms, open your jacket, stand on a stump, etc.)
- If the wolf behaves aggressively, yell, clap and wave your arms. If this does not work, have bear spray ready and prepare to fight back
- If the wolf attacks you, try to stay on your feet and fight back, aiming for the animal's underbelly and face
The brochure encourages people to make noise, stay aware of their surroundings, hike with bear spray and keep dogs leashed or close by while in wolf country. It includes a breakdown of wolf tracks compared to large dog and coyote tracks.
CPW also has a Wolf Educational Resources page, where you can find educational videos on wolf biology and the reintroduction planning process.
CPW in August said it has hired a wolf data manager and wolf biologist.
A wolf license plate will be available starting in January, and it will help fund a preventive measure program for ranchers in wolf country.
The department encourages the public to report any wolf sightings, especially with photos or videos. To submit one, visit CPW.info/wolf-sighting.