OUT: Sunday Column November 30, 2008

Colorado remains wolfless, but they prosper elsewhere

As the economy continues to stagger despite lower fuel prices, the adage about the wolf at the door might be truer than you think.

And we’re talking real wolves.

Recently, confirmed sightings of grey wolves have been reported in Oregon and Washington, and wolves are expected to make an appearance in northern California within a decade, acccording to a report on the High Country News Web site, http://www.hcn.org.

There apparently aren’t any wolves in Colorado, at least not officially. Some longtime residents claim Colorado’s last resident wolf was killed in 1945 near Parlin, east of Gunnison while others disagree, saying the last wolf (or wolf-dog hybrid) was killed in 1943 along the upper Conejos River.

While the Division of Wildlife receives a few unconfirmed wolf sightings each year, seldom are they as reliable as the video taken in February 2006, by a North Park rancher that shows a black wolf-like animal cruising through snowy fields just south of the Wyoming border.

A wolf specialist with the Division of Wildlife affirmed the animal shows “distinctly wolf-like behavior” but the animal wasn’t wearing a radio collar or any identifying tags, which makes it impossible to trace it to established wolf packs in Wyoming or Montana.

And as the biologist said, in contrast to the hope-filled claims by wolf-restoration advocates, there’s no way to tell if it really was a wolf or simply a wolf-dog hybrid without doing some DNA testing.

The last confirmed wolf in Colorado was found dead along Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs in 2004. The female wolf, named 293F for the radio collar she was wearing, was from Yellowstone National Park.

Some folks had the temerity to suggest the wolf might have been killed elsewhere and dumped along the highway to flummox local ranchers and wildlife officials.

A similar theory was espoused about the female lynx also found dead along I-70 near Idaho Springs in 2005.

In both cases, however, necropsies confirmed the animals had been hit by vehicles, thereby reaffirming I-70’s well-deserved reputation as the “Berlin wall for wildlife,” as it was dubbed by a DOW biologist.

Who knows how many “could-be wolves” have been sighted in Colorado but instead of being reported were dispatched through the “shoot, shovel and shut up” philosophy of wildife management.

Wolves again are protected in the lower 48 under the Endangered Species Act, after a lawsuit brought by several carnivore-protection groups overturned some state wolf-management policies that were little more than an openseason on the four-legged critters.

Colorado’s policy says should wolves show up through natural migration, they will be carefully monitored but allowed to live in areas with suitable habitat.

Former DOW director dies

Harry R. Woodward, whose 13-year tenure (1961-1974) as the director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife was the longest in agency history, died recently at his home in Germantown, Tenn. He was 89.

Among his many achievements during his time with the DOW, Woodward promoted a year-round fishing season, which was adopted in 1962. That same year, Butts Lake in Delta County became one of the first two lakes in Colorado where fishing was restricted to artificial flies and lures.

Woodward also was a key pro-hunting spokesman during the late 1960s when several anti-hunting groups, including the U.S. Humane Society and the Friends of Animals, pushed to abolish all hunting and trapping on public lands.

According to the book “Colorado Wildlife’s Story,” Woodward’s testimony before Congress in 1965 was praised as the definitive statement of opposition to gun control.

Woodward also made sure Colorado was at the forefront in hunter safety education and it was during his time as director that laws were passed requiring mandatory hunter safety training and the wearing of blaze orange.

Prior to coming to Colorado, Woodward had been the director of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. After leaving Colorado, he worked as a regional supervisor for Ducks Unlimited.

Long considered a professional conservationist as well as an avid hunter and angler, Woodward once remarked about wildlife management, “There is probably no other area of resource management where the public appears to be more interested and yet lacks more real understanding of the whole problem, than in fish and game management.”


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