Wildlife officer videotapes animal near Wyo. border
By Deborah Frazier And Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News
A lone wolf videotaped strolling across a snowy valley in Colorado near the Wyoming border inspired joy in conservationists Friday as new evidence the wolf is making a long-predicted return to the state.
“It’s a wolf, not a dog and not a wolf-dog hybrid,” said Rob Edward of Sinapu, a Boulder-based wolf advocacy group, after watching the video taken by a Colorado Division of Wildlife officer.
“The black coat is the kicker. It’s characteristic of the Yellowstone wolves,” he said.
“Another kind of animal would not have that coat and that stride.”
Yellowstone National Park, where wolves were reintroduced in 1994 and have thrived, is about 500 miles northwest of Walden – where ranchers have seen the wolf – and is home to about 300 wolves.
“Of the 200 tagged wolves that have dispersed from the park, only seven have gone over 180 miles,” said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“If this is a wild wolf, and it looks like one to me, it’s number eight,” said Bangs, who is based in Montana.
“It’s the right time of year. The Yellowstone packs mate about Valentine’s Day. It’s probably a young wolf looking for love,” said Bangs.
The first confirmed migrant wolf in Colorado was found dead on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs in 2004. The wolf wore a radio collar from Yellowstone National Park.
At the time, some skeptics speculated that the wolf might have been killed in Wyoming and moved to Colorado as a hoax. Federal officials confirmed with a necropsy that the wolf was killed by a car in Colorado.
On Friday, DOW wolf specialists agreed that the animal looks and acts like a wolf, but stress that even genetic testing isn’t 100 percent reliable.
A rancher called the DOW after seeing the wolf and the local DOW manager, Josh Dilley, videotaped the animal on Feb. 16, 10 miles south of the Wyoming border.
“We get a lot of reports about wolf sightings, but this is extraordinarily rare because it’s confirmed,” said Randy Hampton of the DOW.
Wolves roamed Colorado until settlers arrived and the federal government offered a bounty on pelts, which led to the species’ extermination.
Wolf advocates, including Sinapu, have unsuccessfully sought a wolf reintroduction program in Colorado to control wildlife numbers.
Biologists have predicted that wolves would wander into Colorado after they were reintroduced in Wyoming. Wolves are an endangered species, protected by federal law.
“The wolf numbers are increasing in Wyoming,” said Gary Wockner, a wildlife researcher and member of Colorado’s Wolf Working Group, created to study wolf reintroduction.
“It’s an indication of what is to come,” he said.
“I don’t see a large number of wolves migrating down, but you’ll get more than a few random individuals over the next decade or two.”
News of another wolf roving in Colorado didn’t surprise sheep and cattle ranchers.
The livestock industry opposes the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado,
“We knew that lone wolves would migrate into Colorado and there have been sightings on the Colorado-Wyoming border for years,” said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.
Two other ranchers in the Walden area reported seeing the same wolf, he said. Ranchers, whose cows are calving now, are watching their stock closely, he said.
“One saw the wolf up close to the yard at his house, but when the wolf saw him, the wolf ran away,” Fankhauser said.
No one in the area has reported a wolf attacking livestock, he said.
“Wolves are opportunists and predation happens when a wolf is hungry,” he said. “The wolf might prey on livestock and it could prey on wildlife.”
Bonnie Cline, of the Colorado Woolgrowers Association, said the wolf spotted near Walden shows that a formal wolf reintroduction isn’t necessary.
“They are obviously heading here on their own,” she said. “This shows that it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.”
Bangs and other wolf specialists said a single wolf isn’t significant, unless it finds another wolf of the opposite sex.
“A dispersing wolf doesn’t mean that wolf recovery has started in Colorado,” said Bangs. “It’s cool the wolf went a long way, but unless the wolf finds another wolf, no one should read anything into this.”
They’re out there
Division of Wildlife wolf specialists agree that an animal sighted near the Colorado-Wyoming border looks and acts like a wolf. The endangered animals were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1994.
• Tale of the tape: A DOW officer videotaped the animal in North Park, an area west of Rocky Mountain National Park.
• Location, location: A rancher called the DOW after spotting the animal. At least two other ranchers in the Walden area reported seeing the same animal, which if it is a wolf, likely migrated south to mate. This would be the eighth wolf to migrate since the Wyoming reintroduction in 1994.