Killings of wolves in Wyoming highlight division as packs advance into Colorado

Colorado officials say three wolves recently shot and killed in Wyoming may be part of North Park’s wolf pack. according to the Associated Press. The package made headlines last winter after giving birth to Colorado’s first known litter of puppies in 80 years.

The killings — legal under Wyoming law — highlight the disparities in how Mountain West states are treating the polarizing species.

In Wyoming, wolves are considered predators and anyone can shoot a wolf without a license in most of the state designated areas Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are exceptions. In Colorado, killing a wolf brings a hefty fine and the state plans to reintroduce the species to the Western Slope next year, although wolves are beginning to repopulate the northern reaches of the state on their own.

Conservationist and range scientist Matt Barnes said a pack’s survival often depends on which side of the state line it is on.

“Obviously, what we find across the West is that wolves’ habitat is ultimately determined by people’s willingness to live with them,” he said.

Reintroduction of the species is controversial, particularly for ranchers who fear they could lose their livestock to predation. 18 cattle at the beginning of October were killed near Meeker, Colorado. during an apparent wolf attack.

Barnes said there are mitigation strategies ranchers can use to reduce threats, but nothing is perfect.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where we have a population of wolves that just never kills livestock. I think that’s unrealistic,” he said. “So a big question is, can we live with that?”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has not yet confirmed that the three wolves killed in Wyoming were from the North Park pack, but they are continuing to investigate. Wyoming Game and Fish did not respond to requests for comment.

Many wildlife advocates point to research showing that wolves keep populations of deer and moose in check and offer further ecological advantages. Brian Kurzel of the National Wildlife Federation said reintroduction is beneficial as long as key stakeholders in local communities are taken into account.

“It is critical to listen and address the concerns of those most affected by the presence of wolves, be they ranchers, [or] Hunters and outfitters,” said Kurzel. “Any sustainable wolf management is really about addressing social issues and that’s why I think Colorado is trying to incorporate that into our management plan.”

Voters in 2020 in Colorado just missed an initiative which directed state wildlife managers to return wolves to Colorado’s western mountains by 2024.

This story was produced by Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliated stations throughout the region. The Mountain West News Bureau is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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