Probable Wolf Sighting along Colorado Wyoming Border
The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) is reminding residents to quickly report any potential wolf sightings. Though a majority of the sightings are coyotes, dogs, or other animals, a recent report in north-central Colorado's North Park area appears to have some merit.
On Feb. 16, district wildlife managers with the DOW were able to capture brief video of a suspected wolf. The DOW was able to observe the animal because a landowner quickly reported seeing it about 10 miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming border north of the community of Walden. Biologists and wolf specialists who have examined the video say the animal seen on tape looks and behaves like a wolf.
"There's really no way to be absolutely sure just by looking at an animal, and even genetic testing isn�t 100% reliable� said Gary Skiba, Senior Wildlife Conservation Biologist and DOW coordinator for the state's Wolf Management Working Group.
The animal on the video tape had no visible tags or collars. Such indicators could more easily link the animal to federal efforts to reintroduce the northern gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Many offspring wolves lack any markings, but so do wolf-dog hybrids that could also be in the wild.
Reports from southern Wyoming indicate that this same animal was spotted approximately eight miles north of the border several days before and after the North Park video was filmed. It is possible that the animal is searching to establish territory or looking for a mate along the Colorado-Wyoming border.
Whether the North Park animal is a wolf or a hybrid, and whether it stayed in Colorado, doesn't affect the way the state handles wolves that migrate into Colorado. Wolves are currently managed under federal law due to their status as an endangered species. The Colorado Wildlife Commission adopted a comprehensive plan for migrating wolves in 2005, but it will only take effect when the wolf is removed from federal protection.
DOW began wolf management planning with a series of public meetings around the state in March 2004. These meetings were designed to identify issues the public felt should be addressed when developing a wolf management plan. The wolf working group was appointed in the late spring of 2004. The group (four livestock producers, four wildlife advocates, two sportsmen, two county commissioners, and two professional wildlife biologists) was given the difficult task of coming to an agreement on how the DOW should manage wolves that migrate into Colorado from recovery areas in the northern Rockies or Arizona and New Mexico. The State of Colorado has no plans to reintroduce wolves, so the plan only focuses on migratory wolves that might enter the state.
Initially the group operated under the expectation that management of migrating wolves would be turned over to the state at any time, however a federal judge ruled in January 2005 that US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) rulemaking regarding distinct population segments was in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The judge's ruling keeps management of all wolves under the control of the USFWS. Discussions continue about the possible transfer of management of wolves from federal wildlife officials to states. When state management is approved, the Colorado Wolf Management Plan will be implemented.
Highlights of the state management plan include:
* Wolves should be allowed to live without boundaries in suitable habitat in Colorado.
* Wolf populations will be carefully monitored.
* Voluntary non-lethal methods should be used to prevent wolves from causing damage.
* Livestock producers should be compensated when wolves kill or injure livestock and herding and guard dogs.
* Research will be an important component of wolf management.
* Funding for wolf management should come from sources other than hunting licenses.
* Wildlife managers may control predators if they are inhibiting management of other wildlife populations as directed by a species management plan.
* Wolf-dog hybrids should not be released into the wild.
"It's important that everyone understand that, for now, wolves remain under the protection of the Endangered Species Act," Skiba concluded. "Federal protections of all wolves continue to be in effect."
To learn more about wolves in Colorado and the Wolf Working Group, go to: http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/SpeciesOfConcern/Mammals/GrayWolf.htm