The reintroduction of wolves in Colorado is giving me life right now

Colorado Parks and Wildlife released five gray wolves onto public land in Grand County, Colorado, on Monday, December 18th, 2023. Pictured is a young female brought to the state from Oregon. | Image: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Five gray wolves have a new home in Colorado; state wildlife officials released them yesterday in a spectacular show of efforts to conserve the endangered species.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife experts swung crate doors open one by one to let the wolves run free onto public land. Some wolves hesitated for a moment, seemingly taking stock of their new surroundings, while others quickly bolted into the tall dry grass against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

It was a moment conservations have worked toward for years, overcoming much of the stigma that brought wolves to the brink of extinction in the first place. Residents voted to reintroduce the species in Colorado back in 2020, setting the state on a path to release its first new wolves by 2023.

“Today, history was made in Colorado. For the first time since the 1940s, the howl of wolves will officially return to western Colorado,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said in a press release. “The shared efforts to reintroduce wolves are just getting started and wolves will rejoin a diverse ecosystem of Colorado wildlife.”

Gray wolves had vanished from Colorado by the 1940s. People shot, trapped, and poisoned them in the US to make way for livestock and other development. The plan to reintroduce the wolves now has still been met with some opposition. Ranching groups sued to try to stop Colorado Parks and Wildlife from releasing the wolves, The Colorado Sun reports. But on Friday, a federal judge allowed the plan to continue. Wolves, which typically shy away from humans, kill less than 0.01 percent of cattle each year in the northern Rockies. If they wind up killing any domestic animals in Colorado, the state says it will compensate ranchers up to $15,000 per animal.

State wildlife officials released two young females and two young males yesterday, each weighing between 68 and 93 pounds. A fifth older gray male, weighing in at 108 pounds, rounded out the group of new wolves. They’re all transplants from Oregon captured from three different packs. Within about a day, officials separated the wolves (via tranquilizer darts shot from a helicopter) to evaluate their health and give them vaccines before they boarded a small plane to Colorado for the release. There’s a truly awesome video of the wolves being released, thanks to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The plan is to relocate between 30 and 50 wolves to Colorado over the next three to five years. A similar plan reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s, where they’ve helped stabilize elk populations, leading to healthier herds. The predators play an important role in culling sick elk and deer.

Success in Colorado could be a boon for wolves across the US, where they only roam about 10 percent of their historic range. New wolf packs in Colorado could connect fragmented populations across the Great Lakes, the northern Rockies, and the Western US. It’s an opportunity to promote more genetic exchange between wolves and ensure healthier generations in the future.

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