Wolf signs at ranch vague, tests show
Samples of what researchers thought was wolf scat near De Beque were too decomposed to prove their origin, according to a lab report issued this week.
The Robert Wayne Lab at UCLA conducted DNA tests of what the researchers picked up on the High Lonesome Ranch north of De Beque.
Although the tests were not able to determine the origin of most of the scat samples, some were proven to come from coyotes.
According to a news release issued Wednesday, High Lonesome Ranch Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Paul R. Vahldiek Jr., who initiated the original ecological assessment of this property, says researchers will continue to investigate a die-off of aspen groves on his land.
Vahldiek said the ranch shares a oncern around the West about sudden aspen decline, which is thought to be caused by a variety of factors, including climate change, disease and excessive browsing by elk.
In such places as Yellowstone National Park, where wolves have re-established healthy populations, their pressure on elk herds have kept the animals from overgrazing in aspen stands.
During the aspen assessment on High Lonesome Ranch, researchers led by Cristina Eisenberg, a conservation biologist at Oregon State University specializing in predator-prey interactions, reported hearing howls and seeing wolf prints.
Eisenberg had said that earlier this year she found scat and tracks that indicated that at least one wolf, and possibly a pack, had set up housekeeping on the ranch.
Although no wolves were seen, suspected wolf scat was collected and sent to the lab at UCLA.
Ed Bangs, head of the wolf recovery program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena, Mont., said if wolves were present on the ranch, they would be hard to miss.
“In order to have a wolf pack, a wolf would have had to show up at least a year ago, and wolves rapidly become very obvious,” Bangs said. “Wolves walk 15 to 20 miles a day, in the same places people like to walk. You can’t really miss wolves.”
Plus, the slim chances that a female wolf would travel to Colorado and find a male wolf with which to breed makes the possibility of an existing pack even more remote, Bangs said.
Although wolves haven’t established themselves in Colorado, several have been reported traveling through the state over the past few years.
In 2009, a young female wolf from Yellowstone National Park trekked some 1,000 miles from southwestern Montana to Meeker, where it was found dead last April. That wolf’s death remains under investigation by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The previous-known wolf to make it this far south was killed on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs in 2004.