Gray wolves once dominated the western landscape, but widespread killing virtually wiped them out in the lower 48 states by the 1940s. Today, wolves are back in the Northern Rockies thanks to a highly successful reintroduction program in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, and to dedicated conservation efforts. By the end of 2012, the estimated population was 1,674 wolves in the Northern Rockies region.
Over the years, despite many efforts by Defenders and other conservation groups to gain social acceptance for wolves on the ground, repeated attempts were made to prematurely strip federal protection for wolves in all or part of the Northern Rockies.
Aggressive wolf hunts have already resumed in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. For example, Idaho Department of Fish and Game has adopted year-round hunting and trapping in parts of the state and Wyoming has eliminated protection for wolves in over 80% of the state. As a result, the future of wolf recovery across the region remains uncertain.
Gray Wolves in Colorado
Colorado has been without a wolf population for over 70 years. Habitat connectivity for wolves, as for many other species, remains a challenge and except for a few adventurous wanderers who make it out of protected areas and through hostile states like Wyoming, there are no resident wolves in Colorado.
Defenders is working to change that. For decades, polling has indicated that Coloradans want wolves. The Centennial State remains a missing piece in connecting wolf populations from Canada to Mexico. In 2019, Defenders of Wildlife joined the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund in an effort to reintroduce gray wolves to Colorado through a ballot measure and we’ve begun the process to enable Coloradans to vote on a referendum directing Colorado Parks and Wildlife to begin the planning process for wolf reintroductions to the state by 2023.
Of course, physically returning wolves to Colorado is only a small part of our recipe for success. Whether they cross into the state on their own or are actively reintroduced, the people of Colorado want to be sure they can successfully coexist with wolves. That’s why our efforts to promote nonlethal tools and techniques continue in Colorado. We are working to share these concepts with our ranching partners throughout the state and to prepare for the presence of wolves before they arrive. By connecting with people working on the ground, we are developing relationships necessary for cooperation and giving livestock producers the tools they need to succeed in a landscape restored with one of its native predators.
With the largest elk herd in the lower 48 and a robust population of deer, Colorado has ample prey and habitat to sustain wolves. With state residents adding to that support, we are well on our way to seeing wolf restoration in Colorado, but success hinges on our relationships and our ability to work together.