We know bears, elk, and moose live in Colorado’s Rockies. But are there wolves in Colorado? The lone howl of a wolf was once a part of the state’s wildlife but has not existed inside its borders since the 1940s.
Although in recent years there have been efforts to bring back the wolf to Colorado. While many support this attempt, including national organizations like the Sierra Club and local establishments like the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, it has also left many to question if they will enjoy the presence of a gray wolf on the trails.
History of the Gray Wolf in Colorado
According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Colorado is part of the wolf’s indigenous habitat, with the last wild wolf seen in Colorado in the 1940s. At one point in time, gray wolves thrived amongst Colorado’s wilderness due to the abundance of big game species, including elk, bison, and deer. In the mid-1800s, western expansion brought about the rapid killing of these species, thus leaving the wolf to turn to other food sources, like cattle.
With this turn of events, ranchers felt the effect of the wolves’ latest new diet and set out to kill the wolf by trapping, poisoning, and shooting them. From the late 1800s through the 1930s, wolves were the enemy, so much so that the government started to back initiatives that supported the killing of wolves.
In the 1970s, they were officially placed on the federally protected endangered species act. But with recent beliefs that the species is now thriving in the lower 48 states, the latest decision by the Trump administration has removed the wolf from the endangered species list and has set into motion individual states to jump in save the wolf.
Due to the aggressive eradication of the gray wolf, the Centennial state has not seen one roaming the state in nearly 80 years. With a few rare sightings in the last few years, some believe the wolf is now thriving in neighboring states such as Wyoming and will soon start to migrate to Colorado. Could it be that the elusive gray wolf is finding its way back home? Regardless of beliefs of migration, organizations like the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, have taken efforts to propose the re-introduction of the gray wolf in Colorado.
Efforts to bring the gray wolf back to Colorado
In the past 20 years or so, the gray wolf has been restored to states like Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Next on the ballot is Colorado. A recent ban of volunteers spread across this state in hopes of collecting signatures to bring the gray wolf back to Colorado. Their pack was successful and gained the required number of signatures (and more), 210,000 to be exact, to add the question of re-introduction of the gray wolf in western Colorado to the 2020 election ballot.
But there is a debate on both sides. Those in favor say that the reintroduction would help restore Colorado’s natural balance as it has in other states. Those opposed to the effort state that we would inevitably be putting the wildlife science in the hands of voters. Critics say that it doesn’t make sense to force Colorado Parks and Wildlife to bring back the wolf population when they have decided many times in the past not to.
The debate is heated between those who live in rural areas compared to the crowded Front Range. Where ranchers and farmers who would be directly affected compared to those in the Denver metro area who would feel less of the effects shouldn’t have a right to vote on the matter.
If this movement is added to the 2020 ballot, it will be the first-time voters in the nation get to decide whether to reintroduce the gray wolf. If it passes, the re-introduction would start with 20 wolves on the Western Slope.
Where to see wolves in Colorado
Labeled by Colorado Parks & Wildlife as an extirpated species, the wolf, while not in the wild, can be seen at zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, and parks. An extirpated species is one in which an animal no longer exists in the wild within its original habitat but can be found in other areas.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary
Located in Keenesburg, Colorado, the Wild Animal Sanctuary is home to a wide variety of animals including lions, tigers, bears, leopards, wolves and more. The sanctuary is dedicated to the rehabilitation and prolonged lives of these rescued animals that often came from abusive homes and captivity. Currently, the sanctuary houses 20 wolves that were rescued from illegal captivity and abusive situations.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
While the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is not home to the native gray wolf, it does have a pack of seven Mexican wolves. The zoo offers Mexican Wolf demos for those interested in learning more about these elusive animals. The demo includes viewing of feeding time and expert talks.
Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center
Located in Divide, Colorado, the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center is dedicated to the education, conservation, and preservation of the Mexican gray wolf and Swift fox. This state-of-the-art facility encompasses 35 acres of land with a hay barn, a meat room that holds up to 5 thousand pounds of food for the wolves, an amphitheater for educational programs, walking and viewing trails, and expanded enclosures. Their “pack” includes a mix of wolves, foxes, and coyotes, all available for visitors to see.
The Rocky Mountain Wildlife Foundation
The Rocky Mountain Wildlife Foundation, located in Guffey, Colorado was once home to a wolf sanctuary where visitors could come pet, play, and kiss a wolf. Due to the owner’s declining health, the sanctuary will close at the end of 2019 for good. The wolves that were housed here will find a new home at Mattersville in Sedalia. Mattersville is a housing and job training center for U.S. military veterans.
In 2020 it will be your decision of whether or not the gray wolf will be re-introduced to Colorado. How will you decide?