By DAVE BUCHANAN
The Daily Sentinel
The video is surprisingly sharp, the animal surprisingly dark, against the endless snowy plain that is North Park in winter.
Dark and surprisingly wolf-like.
It’s not conclusive, but it’s close enough that biologists and conservationists are saying the dog-like animal videotaped last month by District Wildlife Manager Josh Dilley of the Colorado Division of Wildlife was likely the second wolf seen in Colorado in more than 60 years.
“There’s really no way to be absolutely sure just by looking at an animal, and even genetic testing isn’t 100 percent reliable” said Gary Skiba, senior wildlife conservation biologist and DOW coordinator for the state’s Wolf Management Working Group.
No one wants to guarantee it’s a wolf, but no one is willing to rule it out.
The animal on the videotape had no visible tags or collars, things that would more easily link the animal to federal efforts to reintroduce the northern gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park.
Many wolf offspring aren’t wearing ear tags or collars, and biologists said the animal in the video might simply be a wolf-dog hybrid that either escaped captivity or was bred in the wild.
“If this animal is, indeed, a wild wolf, it would be one of very few wolves that have made the treacherous journey from Yellowstone to northern Colorado,” said Rob Edward of the carnivore advocacy organization Sinapu.
The last wild wolf known to enter Colorado from Wyoming was killed on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs in 2004.
Reports from southern Wyoming indicate the latest wolf was spotted approximately eight miles north of the Colorado border several days before and after the North Park video was filmed.
DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said it is possible the animal is searching to establish territory or looking for a mate along the Colorado-Wyoming border.
“We don’t know if the wolf is making its way back to Yellowstone or using the area along the border,” Hampton said. “Either way, it won’t affect how we manage wolves that migrate into Colorado.”
Wolves are currently managed under federal law because of their status as an endangered species. Wolves that come into Colorado on their own are legally protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Colorado Wildlife Commission adopted a comprehensive plan for migrating wolves in 2005, but it will take effect only when the wolf is removed from federal protection.
The DOW began wolf management planning with a series of public meetings around the state in March 2004. The state has no plans to reintroduce wolves, so the plan focuses only on migratory wolves that might enter the state.
A federal judge ruling in January 2005 keeps management of all wolves under the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
State and federal officials continue to discuss transferring management of wolves from the federal to the state level. Should that happen, the Colorado Wolf Management Plan will be implemented.
The plan would allow wolves entering Colorado to live unmolested in “suitable habitat,” and livestock producers would be compensated when wolves kill or injure livestock and guard dogs.
“It’s important that everyone understand that, for now, wolves remain under the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” Skiba said. “Federal protections of all wolves continue to be in effect.”
The video may be seen on the DOW Web site, wildlife.state.co.us/NewsMedia/Videos/
Dave Buchanan can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.