On Monday, December 9, Colorado wildlife officials uncrated five gray wolves on a tract of public land west of Denver. The wolves were captured in Oregon earlier this winter. Their release is part of an ongoing effort to re-stock the species into its historic range in select parts of the Centennial State.

The five wolves were the first of anywhere from 30 to 50 that will be released in Colorado over the next 3 to 5 years, Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) said in a press release issued last night. Colorado’s wolf reintroduction goals have been in the works since 2020 when voters mandated the plan via a state-wide referendum that passed on a razor-thin margin. By releasing the wolves on Monday, CPW complied with a fast-approaching Dec. 31 deadline for wolf reintroduction that was laid out in the 2020 ballot initiative.

CPW described the Monday event as “a historic effort to create a permanent, self-sustaining wolf population,” and the agency released multiple photos and videos of wolves being brought into the state. But the efforts have ignited skepticism and opposition within hunting, ranching, and rural communities concerned about wolf depredation on livestock and predatory stress on the state’s legendary elk herds. Others, including Colorado governor Jared Polis, have touted CPW’s wolf release as a historic win for wildlife management in the state.

“For the first time since the 1940s, the howl of wolves will officially return to western Colorado,” Polis said in the CPW press release. “I am proud of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff for their hard work to make this happen. The shared efforts to reintroduce wolves are just getting started and wolves will rejoin a diverse ecosystem of Colorado wildlife.”

It’s worth noting that wolves have already been migrating to parts of western Colorado on their own. According to recent reporting in the Fort Collins-based Coloradoan, a confirmed wolf pack in Jackson County, which lies immediately north of Grand County, has been breeding new pups since the Spring of 2021. And CPW has paid out more than $20,000 to ranchers whose pets or livestock have been killed by wolves belonging to the so-called North Park Pack. In March of 2023, two working ranch dogs were killed by wolves within one 24 hour period in Jackson County.

The state’s first round of wolves for the Monday release came from Oregon. The animals were trapped in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. Oregon was a last resort for CPW after four other Rocky Mountain states declined to supply wolves, citing the controversial nature of the voter-mandated reintroduction program. “CPW veterinarians and biologists evaluated [the wolves] to determine if they were fit for relocation to Colorado,” the agency press release states. “Criteria for release included the age, sex, health and body condition of each animal.”

2023-12-17 | Oregon Wolf Captures from Colorado Parks & Wildlife on Vimeo.

All five wolves were vaccinated and fitted with GPS tracking collars, CPW said. The state released two juvenile females, two juvenile males, and one adult male—ranging in size from 108 pounds to 68 pounds. They originated from three separate Oregon packs: the Five Points Pack, the Noregaard Pack, and the Wenaha Pack.

The state could release up to 15 additional wolves as early as mid-March 2024, according to the press release. For its long-term goal of releasing 30 to 50 wolves over the next three to five years, CPW says it hopes to obtain wolves from several different packs in nearby Rocky Mountain states by trapping and darting them in the winter. So far, no Rocky Mountain state other than Oregon has expressed willingness to participate in the relocation efforts.

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Colorado is home to the nation’s largest elk herd with some 280,000 individual animals, according to recent CPW estimates. Wolves were eradicated from the state by the early 1940s through a combination of unregulated hunting and government-sponsored poisoning with strychnine and other toxic compounds. The first efforts to reintroduce the species to the Western U.S. began in 1995 when two shipments of 14 wolves arrived in Yellowstone National Park from packs in Canada.