wolves

Black- and white-furred captive wolves in a zoo in France. (Photo by Stefan-N&B/Wikipedia)

Wolves have been much in the news recently. Advocates for the predator’s reintroduction in this state have now collected more than enough signatures to have the question put to Colorado residents in November, and recently announced that Initiative 107 (as it is known) will be on the ballot this fall.

And a week ago, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced “the likely presence of multiple wolves in northwest Colorado,” based on an eyewitness report last October of “large canids” near Irish Canyon, and CPW’s own ongoing investigation of a scavenged elk carcass and tracks consistent with wolf tracks in the same region.

Those are the facts: Initiative 107 will be on the ballot, and as CPW’s news release put it, “a pack of gray wolves may now be residing in Colorado.”

Over the next months, special interests will use the press to make their case, pro and con, for wolves’ reintroduction, and one group wasted no time: An email titled “CPW Statement Urging Withdrawal of Wolf Ballot Measure” was sent to the editor of this paper earlier this week.

But hold on: The release came not from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but “Coloradans Protecting Wildlife,” a special interest group that (as it happens) shares CPW’s exact same initials, and used its release to urge Initiative 107 to be retracted from November’s ballot.

The state’s wildlife agency quickly issued a statement of its own: “The wolf question is controversial, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife has already stated its position. It’s unfortunate that an organization would use the letters C-P-W to promote its point of view.”

There was more that was potentially confusing about the press release. Despite its title, Coloradoans Protecting Wildlife’s chief aim is likely not the protection of wildlife, but sheep and cattle.

“Just as predicted, wolves are making their way into Colorado on their own,” Chad Vorthmann, executive director of the Colorado Farm Bureau, stated in the press release. Thus, Initiative 107 is pointless: “The proponents should let mother nature work its magic, stop trying to impose their will on the natural world, and retract their ballot measure.”

Biologists from the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, a group that advocates for reintroducing the gray wolf, hailed the news that gray wolves may be residing in northwestern Colorado. But the group cautioned t that “a few wolves or a single pack — which is so far unconfirmed — may not lead to a viable population” in northwestern Colorado, much less the Western Slope, where it seeks to reintroduce wolves over three years via a plan to be put in place, and managed, by Colorado Parks & Wildlife biologists. 

As it stands, wolves in the northwest part of the state “are in a very precarious place,” said Diane Tomback, an integrative biology professor at the University of Colorado.

Although gray wolves are protected in Colorado under the Endangered Species Act, Tomback pointed out, “they can be shot on sight” just across the border, in Wyoming, where the wolf has been delisted. The situation is no less grim for roving gray wolves in northeast Utah, where the law “directs us to remove any wolves found in portions of Utah that are delisted” — that is, north of I-80 and east of I-84 — “until the entire state is delisted,” Faith Jolley, public information officer at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said.

The bottom line: “We don’t know what these wolves’ home range is, or anything about their longevity,” Tomback said. “They could be transient. Just because there’s a single pack in the northwest corner of the state doesn’t mean they’ll stay there. They could wander over to Utah or Wyoming and be killed. And even if they’re successful, and they do manage to stay and expand, it doesn’t equal the restoration of wolves on the Western Slope.”