The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its final 10(j) rule on Colorado gray wolf reintroduction which will take effect on December 8, 2023. Under the rule, FWS will authorize Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reintroduce gray wolves to Colorado, which is largely geographically isolated from other populations, in order to promote the species’ recovery. Today’s rule will establish gray wolves in Colorado as a “nonessential, experimental population,” a designation that will authorize FWS, and the State of Colorado acting on its behalf, to manage wolves without the full Endangered Species Act protections that currently apply to the species throughout most of the contiguous U.S.
“It is encouraging to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Colorado making progress towards fulfilling Colorado’s commitment to return meaningful gray wolf populations to the State,” said Michael Saul, Rockies and Plains field director for Defenders of Wildlife. “The return of the wolf to Colorado has the potential to be an historic ecological success, but the restoration program will require careful scientific monitoring and commitment by all stakeholders to ensure wolves and humans can share the landscape, and to give returning wolves a real chance to thrive and transform ecosystems.”
In October, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it would supply up to ten gray wolves to Colorado this winter. The wolves could now conceivably arrive as early as December 8, depending on winter conditions in both states and the agencies’ progress on capture, care and release efforts.
The release of the rule comes after the 2020 passage of Proposition 114, a ballot measure requiring the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to reintroduce gray wolves in the state by the end of 2023. Earlier this year, the Commission finalized its plan to release about 30 to 50 wolves total over a three- to five-year time frame in the western part of the state. The state requested that the FWS prepare a rule under section 10(j) of the ESA to govern the management and protection of the reintroduced wolves.