Wolves Will Soon Be Introduced in Colorado — but Conservationists Aren't Happy With the Plan

Wildlife officials have been working on plans to reintroduce wolves to the Colorado wild, in an effort to recover the animal's population.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jan. 10 2023, Published 2:39 p.m. ET

Gray Wolves in Colorado
Source: Getty Images

Wildlife officials have been working on plans to reintroduce wolves to the Colorado wild, in an effort to recover the animal's population. However, deciding exactly where in the Centennial State the wolves should be released, as well as how the plan should be executed, have been controversial issues.

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As of January 2023, the plan is becoming a bit clearer — though conservation groups are not quite satisfied. Here's what's known so far about the plan to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado, which will be important for overall conservation of the species.

Timber Wolf
Source: Getty Images
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Gray wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2020.

In October 2020, the Trump administration removed the gray wolves from the Endangered Species List.

Delisting animals from the Endangered Species List can sometimes be a good thing, because it may mean the population has successfully rebounded. However, in many other cases, it's not a good thing, as it strips the species in question of governmental protections.

According to many conservation experts, this was the case for gray wolves (aka Canis lupus). The Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Animal Wellness Action, and even Dr. Jane Goodall all spoke out against the delisting at the time.

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Colorado has been working on plans to reintroduce wolves in the state.

The plan to reintroduce wolves to the Colorado wild began with the November 2020 election, when Colorado citizens voted in favor of the Gray Wolf Reintroduction Initiative. This measure required the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to restore the gray wolf to Colorado.

More than two years later, on Dec. 9, 2022, Colorado Parks and Wildlife publicly shared a draft of the Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan, which is 293 pages long. The plan's key goal is: "To recover and maintain a viable, self-sustaining wolf population in Colorado, while concurrently working to minimize wolf-related conflicts with domestic animals, other wildlife, and people."

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The plan aims to reintroduce between 30 and 50 wolves to Colorado over the course of 3 to 5 years. The wolves will likely come from states in the northern Rockies (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) as, well as Oregon and Washington.

It also proposes reintroducing the wolves to Colorado via a "hard release," in which they will be immediately placed in their new home, rather than experiencing a gentle transition period.

According to Colorado Public Radio, the current proposed plan gives state officials the right to kill wolves who prey on animals being kept as livestock and animals considered as "game" for hunters. It will also pay farmers for each livestock animal killed by a wolf — in fact, the farmers will receive up to seven times the value of the killed animal.

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A Gray Wolf in Colorado.
Source: iStock

Where in Colorado will wolves be reintroduced?

As The Coloradoan noted, it's virtually impossible to make wolves remain in the exact area they were released — so choosing the right area is a tricky topic, since the neighboring areas will likely be affected as well.

In January 2023, the local newspaper reported that the two most likely areas for this reintroduction are around the Holy Cross Wilderness, located south of Vail, as well as the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, located south of Aspen.

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The Gunnison and Grand Mesa national forests, located southwest of Carbondale, are also possibilities.

The newspaper got this data from a map shared by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. That said, none of this is official yet, as the plan is not even approved.

Conservationists have many criticisms of the plan to restore gray wolves.

Many environmental groups have criticism for the December plan. In fact, in July 2022, a coalition of 14 conservation and wildlife organizations (including WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Colorado Sierra Club, and the Humane Society of the United States) proposed their own Colorado Wolf Restoration Plan.

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The proposal was based in science, and focused on making sure the wolves can peacefully coexist with the interests of humans, wildlife, and the needs of ecology. The plan called for the reintroduction of a minimum of 150 wolf packs, which is about 750 wolves.

This is far more than the 30 to 50 wolves wolves that the state's proposal calls for.

As per Axios, amond many other issues, the Center for Biological Diversity believes there is an issue with the financial incentives that the state is offering to farmers whose livestock are killed by wolves. The center believes this will incentivize the state to introduce far lower wolf populations than needed.

In contrast to policies like this, the Colorado Wolf Restoration Plan includes various prevention tactics in hopes that these conflicts simply never happen, and therefore never escalate or lead to the reintroduced wolves being killed.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission will listen to the public's thoughts on this plan in January and February, and will vote on the final plan on May 3 and 4, as per The Coloradoan.

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