Wolves Return to Colorado and Areas Near Teller

CPW Wolf Intro Plan Encountering Mixed Views

Trevor Phipps

After three years’ worth of effort from state officials, wolves have finally made their return to Colorado.

However, this return is getting met with mixed opinions and some concern from area residents, as future packs could be located fairly close to Teller County. The subject of wolves, and their endangered status locally, has always generated much controversy. In the last few weeks, this issue has sparked a slew of comments on social media outlets.

Wolves are native to the state but once humans started inhabiting the lands the animals were driven away to the point where they became an endangered species.

In 2020, Proposition 114 was put on the ballot as an effort to use a majority vote to force the state to reintroduce wolves. In the end, voters approved the proposition by a rather slim margin statewide of less than 60,000 votes. The proposition, however, was opposed in many rural counties, with most of the support coming from voters in big metropolitan areas.

Since the proposition was passed, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) was tasked with finding wolves and getting them reintroduced to the state before Dec. 31, 2023. According to the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, the passing of the proposition was “the first use of direct democracy to restore an endangered species anywhere in the world.”

In order to make their deadline, CPW officials posted pictures of the release of the first 10 wolves in the state in mid-December. The wolves came from various packs in Oregon, and they were released in undisclosed locations on state-owned land in Grand and Summit counties.

In total, CPW released six females and four males with eight of them being yearlings and two of the males are adults. The wolves were captured from Oregon, given vaccines and fitted with GPS collars before being released.

“This is the culmination of action by citizens and practitioners who are working together to rectify past actions and make a difference in an era of biodiversity loss,” said Joanna Lambert, PhD, a University of Colorado Boulder professor and science advisor to the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project. “Putting an apex predator back into a system not only reassembles food webs and restores ecological integrity, but it also provides hope that we can live in a world where both humans and wildlife can exist.”

The wolves were weighed and measured before being released and given identification numbers based on the year they were captured, whether they are male or female and the order they were collared. However, shortly after the wolves were released, the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide started a naming contests so that Colorado’s new wolves can be known by more than just a number.

The local wolf and wildlife center has been a proponent for wolf reintroduction dating before 2020 when Prop 114 was put on the state’s ballot. According to Lorianne Willingham with the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, wolves are not a threat to humans and the benefits to wolf reintroduction far outweigh the possible negative impacts.

“Ideally the reintroduction of wolves is going to help a lot of things,” Willingham said. “Obviously the wolves will help control the deer and elk population, which will make for healthier herds. And then there shouldn’t really be many effects for people because they are so afraid of us. It is very, very unlikely that there is going to be any type of interaction between human and wolf. So, we shouldn’t really notice anything except our ecosystem getting better.”

Some Unhappy with Recent Wolf Reintroduction

Ever since Prop 114 was put on the ballot many ranchers and hunters across Colorado quickly lashed out at the idea of bringing wolves back to the state. In fact, CPW officials had to search for a state to accept the wolves after states, such as Wyoming and Montana, took a strong stand against the plan to have them reintroduced.

Many opponents of wolf reintroduction say that the move could be devastating for ranchers as wolves will go after their livestock. In fact, shortly after the wolves were reintroduced, the Colorado Sun publication reported that two of the wolves came from the large “Five Points” pack in Oregon that had killed three livestock animals in the past.

Others have said that wolf reintroduction has already cost taxpayers too much money and that the number will go up after the state has to compensate ranchers for the loss of livestock in the future. According to USA Today, the state has already spent around $3.3 million over the past three years to get wolves to the state.

According to Bering Halloran, a hunting guide from Alaska who spends a lot of time in Colorado, a pack of six wolves could easily kill one cow a day but a larger pack of 20 or more could kill around 10 cattle in one attack. Meaning the financial loss to ranchers could range from a little over $1,000 to over $300,000 during a single incident. Plus, according to a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting report, wolf attacks can be brutal for mother cows when they have to watch their dead calves being hauled away.  “When wolves attack, they don’t usually wait for their prey to die before they start eating. They just eat while the other animal fights to survive. The result can be gruesome,” stated a report, done in collaboration between Oregon Public Broadcasting and the KUNC station.

Others have also worried that the wolves will thin out the state’s elk and deer herds too much and negatively affect those who hunt to feed their families. “The fact of the matter is that wolves kill for fun,” Halloran said. “They will kill everything in their sight. In Alaska, a pack of six wolves will kill a moose a day. A wolf can eat 25 pounds in one sitting and then do it again the next day.”

Even though the wolves were released in the central part of the state, there is a good chance they will at some point make their way to Teller County and the Ute Pass region. According to a press release submitted by the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, based on the distances wolves traveled after hard releases in Idaho in 1995, the wolves are expected to travel between 20 and 150 miles before they settle down.

The distance from Teller County to the Grand County border is a little over 130 miles, but the western Teller County border is only about 70 miles away from the Summit County border. As a result, the Ute Pass region does lie within a 150-mile radius from where the wolves were recently released.