JACKSON COUNTY, Colo. — Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is investigating a gray wolf sighting in Jackson County.
Officials on Wednesday confirmed that the wolf was a male from the Snake River pack in Wyoming. The wolf was wearing a tracking collar, which was last recorded by transmission signals on Feb. 12.
Gray wolves once lived across Colorado, but the last ones were killed around 1940. While a few of the predators have wandered into the state before returning to their home ranges, gray wolves don't have any established populations in Colorado. They do, however, call Wyoming home.
Over the weekend, a community member in Jackson County, which sits in northern Colorado along the Wyoming border, told CPW they had spotted what appeared to be a dark-colored wolf wearing a tracking collar.
CPW biologists are also investigating a possible other sighting in Grand County.
Rebecca Ferrell, spokeswoman for CPW, said the clear pictures combined with an obvious tracking collar made them feel pretty certain the photos from Jackson County show a gray wolf from Wyoming.
You may have seen our wolf sighting tweet earlier this evening.— CO Parks & Wildlife (@COParksWildlife) July 9, 2019
We accidentally shared the wrong wolf sighting photo. Here are the correct ones from over the weekend. (note the tracking collar)
As we continue to get more information we will share it. pic.twitter.com/lm0HXWwK3V
CPW worked with its counterparts in Wyoming to confirm the sighting and have confirmed that the collar on the animal matches the type of equipment Wyoming officials use, Ferrell said. Now, they hope to see if the collar's signal holds any telemetry or GPS data they can pull information from.
“It’s unusual, so we understand why it’s so cool," she said. "It’s very cool for us, as well, to see something like this and be so well-documented.”
Collete Adkins, the carnivore conservation director and a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, also confirmed that the animal that CPW shared a photo of is a gray wolf — not a dog or coyote — that likely came from Wyoming. The animals lost their federal protection in most of Wyoming, but one that makes its way to Colorado would be protected under both state and federal law, she said.
“Because it’s federally protected, unless there’s some emergency situation where it was posing a risk to human life, it needs to be allowed to just do its thing and live wild and free in Colorado," she said.
If a wolf is located in Colorado, state officials couldn't lawfully bring it back to Wyoming without a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Adkins said. They'd need the permit to interact with the animal in any way.
But Ferrell said that's not even in the cards right now. They plan to leave the wolf alone, right where it is.
"It’s not getting into any trouble," she said. "We don’t have any reports of it being where it shouldn’t be. It’s naturally doing what it should do.”
If they can, they'll collect DNA evidence like scat and fur from the area where it was spotted. She said they expect to only find evidence of one animal, but if they become suspicious the wolf may have traveled with others, they will let their federal and local partners know.
Ferrell said residents in Jackson County shouldn't worry about their safety when it comes to the wandering wolf. Like most wildlife, wolves aren't interested in hanging around humans, she said.
“’(CPW is) here to watch and observe and manage the best we can," she said. "In this instance, we don’t have management responsibilities of wolves, but we obviously are very interested in them as a wildlife species that was once here in Colorado that hasn’t been for the last 80 years or so.”
It's not unusual for a wolf to wander into Colorado from neighboring states. Ferrell said CPW receives about 100 reports of a sighting each year, though many are not verifiable.
Juvenile wolves often travel long distances — sometimes hundreds of miles — as they search for a pack or mate.
“We’ve seen them in the past coming from the northern Rockies down into the southern Rockies, but unfortunately, oftentimes we do end up having them getting either shot or hit by a car," Adkins said.
Wolves haven’t roamed Colorado since the mid-1940’s. This past weekend, a private citizen captured a wolf on video in Jackson County in northern Colorado. @COParksWildlife officials are working to verify the sighting as well as another in Grand County. pic.twitter.com/H9Z4Jg2Z7w— Jared Polis (@GovofCO) July 9, 2019
If the wolf's tracking collar is still effective, officials would be able to track the animal, Adkins said, though its location likely wouldn't be released to the public because it could be a danger to both the wolf and people who choose to seek it out.
Under the Endangered Species Act, harassing, injuring or killing a wolf — unless in self-defense — is a federal crime that can lead to fines up to $100,000 and a year in prison.
“The Endangered Species Act is such a strong, protective statute," Adkins said. "It has really brought protections for wolves like this — protected as endangered. Only in defense of human life can you do anything to it unless you have a permit.”
Based on the improving condition of the gray wolf population, the animals could face delisting. Drue Deberry with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services said the delisting proposal was launched on March 15. They are looking for public feedback until July 15.
“Fish and Wildlife Services is charged with looking through the lens of the Endangered Species Act," Deberry said. "Obviously, we saw sufficient evidence and cause to propose delisting. We always realize we don’t have the complete picture, which is why we also have the public comment period.”
It's exciting any time they see an endangered species doing well, he said.
“It’s the first step in a lot of steps toward having a healthy population, so it’s exciting and obviously an indication that Colorado is doing a good job managing habitat," he said.
If the gray wolf is delisted, management of the species would go to CPW. To read the full proposal and comment, click here.
In the past few years, Adkins said, there have been multiple wolf sightings in Colorado, which include, but are not limited to the following:
- Kremmling (April 2015), wolf was shot and killed
- South of Meeker (April 2009), killed by poison
- Near Walden (March 2006), was videotaped
- 30 miles west of Denver (June 2004), killed by vehicle
To learn more about wolves in Colorado, visit CPW’s website here.
If you’ve seen a wolf in Colorado recently, CPW asks that you fill out this online form.