Volume No. 17 Issue No. 5 May 2020  

  Facts about wolves
  By Robin Widmar

     In response to recent interest in wolves and the proposed wolf reintroduction program, Colorado Parks and Wildlife created a comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions document available online: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/WildlifeSpecies/Mammals/Information%20on%20Wolves%20and%20QA%20FINAL.pdf
   Here are some quick facts about wolves and the future of wolves in Colorado.
   The gray wolf is an endangered species in the United States.
   Wolves once roamed most of North America but were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the early 20th century. In 1978, the gray wolf was classified as endangered throughout the contiguous U.S. under the Endangered Species Act. Killing a federally protected wolf is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
   Today, gray wolves remain endangered in much of the United States. The Minnesota gray wolf is classified as threatened. Gray wolves were delisted due to recovery in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and north central Utah. Reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf continues in Arizona and New Mexico.
   Wolves do not quickly reproduce.
   Wolves usually live in packs of two to 12 members. Not all female wolves give birth every year. Those that do typically produce a single litter of four to six pups in the spring. Pack members contribute to raising the wolf pups, but not all pups survive to maturity.
   Wolves benefit ecosystems.
   Predators are a natural part of ecosystems. When they are removed, prey animals populate unchecked, which stresses habitats. As an example, the 1995-1996 reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park has helped thin overpopulated deer and elk herds, which in turn allowed overgrazed habitats to recover and initiated a cascading effect that has benefitted multiple species.
   Livestock are more likely to be killed by disease and other predators than by wolves.
   U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that the majority of livestock losses in the U.S. are due to nonpredator causes such as illness, weather and birthing complications. In 2015, nonpredator causes accounted for almost 98 percent of all deaths in adult cattle and almost 89 percent in calves. Coyotes accounted for the highest percentage of predation, followed by unknown predators and dogs. By comparison, cattle and calf death losses caused by wolves were 4.9 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.
   The 2014 USDA statistics for sheep deaths show that nonpredator causes accounted for 71.9 percent in adult sheep and 63.6 percent in lambs. Coyotes and dogs were the top two sheep predators. Wolves accounted for 1.3 percent of all predator death losses in adult sheep and just 0.4 percent in lambs.
   Wolf attacks on humans are rare.
   Wolf attacks on humans do happen, but they are very rare in North America, even in areas where large wolf populations exist. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife service website states that most documented attacks have resulted from wolves becoming habituated to humans who feed them and do not properly secure garbage. 
   Colorado is part of the gray wolf’s native range.
   According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, gray wolves once occupied Colorado but were eradicated by the 1940s. In 2019, a wolf from the Snake River pack in Wyoming was located in Jackson County, Colorado. In January 2020, CPW officials confirmed the presence of a pack of at least six wolves near the Colorado borders with Wyoming and Utah.
   Wolves are a potential ally in the fight against CWD (chronic wasting disease).
   Although still widely debated in the absence of definitive scientific studies, it is possible that wolves could aid in the battle against CWD. The disease is a fatal and contagious neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose. In Colorado, CWD has been confirmed in multiple game animal herds. Since wolves prefer to prey on animals that are old, sick or disabled, it is thought they could help cull herds afflicted with CWD.
   There is currently no plan to reintroduce wolves in or near El Paso County.
   Colorado ballot proposal 107 (Restoration of Gray Wolves) specifies that, if approved by voters, reintroduction of wolves would occur on “designated lands,” west of the Continental Divide as determined by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.
   Officially, Colorado Parks and Wildlife neither opposes nor supports wolf reintroduction in Colorado.
   The CPW website states the agency is “committed to ensuring a fair election takes place” and has not adopted a resolution or position on Initiative 107. The agency also stated that it anticipates and is prepared for the eventuality that wolves will enter the state (as some already have).
   CPW noted: “There will be funding and staffing impacts to CPW, should a reintroduction occur. A more precise understanding of what this would look like will be apparent after a management plan is developed, should the ballot initiative pass in November 2020.”
  • “American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West” by Nate Blakeslee
  • “Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone” by Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson
  • Colorado Ballot Proposal 2019-2020 #107 – Restoration of Gray Wolves
  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center
  • National Park Service
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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