COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers believe there is strong evidence that at least one pack of gray wolves is living in our state. Native wolves were eradicated here decades ago.
However, several wolf prints were found in the snow near the carcass of an elk in Moffatt County last week. The find was relatively close to an area where a hunter recorded a video clip of a pack of wolves in northwestern Colorado back in October.
"Wolves were extirpated from the state a long time ago, extirpated means locally extinct," explained Frank McGee, an Area Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Colorado Springs.
"To our knowledge, this is the first time we've had a pack within the state, probably since the 1940's."
Gray wolves were listed as an endangered species in the late 1970's. In 1995, they were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. Other groups of wolves have since been reintroduced in neighboring states.
McGee explained that CPW formed a working group among stakeholders several years ago in anticipation of the wolves migrating back to the Centennial State.
"The plan expected this to happen. We were anticipating natural migration of wolves into Colorado," he said.
As an endangered species, management of wild wolf populations is handled by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the summer, that agency held a number of public meetings on a proposed rule change to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species list on account of recovering population numbers.
Colorado voters will be asked this fall whether to deliberately reintroduce more gray wolves on Western Slope.
In September, Darlene Kobobel of the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Teller County explained that gray wolves are apex predators and their absence here has harmed local ecology. Deer and elk herds have becoming increasingly overpopulated. Without a natural predator, those herds tend to stay in the same areas and over consume native plants.
"We certainly need them here to restore the balance," she said. "You need predator and prey to make that balance."
However, rancher and hunters expressed concerns over the reintroduction ballot question warning the move could damage wildlife and livestock.
"If you bring wolves back in on a large scale, it's going to be detrimental to the wildlife," hunter Brett Axton said at the time.
Rancher Steve Wooten believes the natural migration underway is preferable to an artificial reintroduction.
"There are wolves in Colorado today, they're documented, the system is working like it should," he said. "They're introducing themselves at a rate that is manageable."
McGee from Colorado Parks and Wildlife said his agency wants to hear from the public when a gray wolf is sighted in the wild. You can report those sightings through an online form.