Oregon wolves headed for Colorado


Last updated 10/17/2023 at 9:52am

Photo courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

A radio-collared Oregon wolf.

After both Wyoming and Montana gave an emphatic no, Oregon has agreed to allow the capture and transport of 10 wolves to Colorado in December. A year-end date was set for Colorado's wolf reintroduction program created by Proposition 114, which Colorado voters passed in 2020 in a hotly contested vote - 50.91 percent to 49.09 percent.

Colorado initially thought it could reestablish its wolf population with wolves from populous habitat in the Greater Yellowstone region, which is centered in Wyoming and extends into Montana and Idaho.

But Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon flatly stated that Colorado would get no wolves from Wyoming. Among other concerns, Gordon cited worries about wolves from Colorado crossing over the state line and back into Wyoming.

Idaho also refused, while Montana remained noncommittal.

That left Oregon and Washington state as possible options. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) announced this week that Oregon had agreed to provide an initial 10 wolves.

Getting the wolves to Colorado is a major task. Personnel from CPW will travel to Oregon and work with contracted helicopter crews and spotter planes to capture wolves, according to the agency.

The wolves will first be tested for disease and examined for injuries and ailments. Wolves with maladies such as broken teeth, missing eyes, mange, or lice won't be accepted for reintroduction in Colorado.

Each wolf that passes examinations will be outfitted with a radio tracking collar and loaded into metal crates and transported by truck or aircraft, CPW says.

Oregon will allow Colorado officials to capture and transport the wolves between December and March, with Colorado paying all costs. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) will provide wolf location information and best practices for capturing the animals. Once trapped, the wolves will be introduced gradually onto Colorado's Western Slope that includes Vail and Aspen.

"Removing 10 wolves from this area (northeast Oregon) is not expected to have a detrimental impact on the wolf population," said Michelle Dennehy, a spokesperson for ODFW, as preported in the Idaho Capital Sun. "The intent is for Colorado to take wolves one to five years old from a mix of larger established packs. This is the age that wolves normally disperse anyway, striking out on their own to find new territory and a mate."

The ODFW will not allow the transfer of known breeding males and females from any pack, which should keep Oregon packs stable, according to Dennehy.

Adam Bronstein of Sisters, Oregon director of the nonprofit conservation group Western Watersheds, said he supports the Colorado wolf reintroduction and Oregon's contribution, but said Oregon still has a long way to go to boost its own population. A 2006 study led by Oregon State University researchers found the state could support a wolf population of nearly 1,500, more than eight times larger than the current population.

"ODFW continues to recklessly kill our wolves at a dizzying rate at the behest of the livestock industry, stifling the recovery in defiance of what the science is telling us. We still have a long way to go in Oregon," he said in an email, according to Idaho Capital Sun.

"We are deeply grateful for Oregon's partnership in this endeavor," said Colorado Governor Jared Polis. "We are now one step closer to fulfilling the will of the voters in time."

Director Curt Melcher of ODFW said Oregon has a long history of helping other states meet their conservation goals by providing animals for relocation.

"The wolves will come from northeast Oregon, where wolves are most abundant in the state and where removal of 10 wolves will not impact any conservation goals," Melcher said.

According to the most recent population estimate, Oregon had at least 178 known wolves statewide by the end of 2022. That includes 24 packs, of which 17 are breeding pairs, defined as an adult male and adult female with at least two pups that survive through year's end, along with 14 other groups of two or three wolves.

Colorado wildlife officials hope to relocate an even number of males and females. They cannot have a history of killing livestock. Biologists expect the wolves' ages to range between 1 and 5, when wolves typically disperse from the packs into which they were born.


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