The apparent presence of a gray wolf pack in Moffat County is heightening debate over a ballot issue this fall that would require the animal’s reintroduction to the state.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife received an eyewitness report from a hunter that he and his hunting parter saw six large canids traveling last October in far-northwestern Colorado near the Wyoming and Utah borders, and a member of the party recorded two of the animals on video, the agency says.

In addition, last week a thoroughly scavenged elk carcass was found near Irish Canyon, a few miles from the location of the October sighting, which when considered along with that sighting strongly suggests a pack of gray wolves may be living in the state, CPW said in a news release today.

“The (October) sighting marks the first time in recent history CPW has received a report of multiple wolves traveling together,” CPW Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke said in the release. “In addition, in the days prior, the eyewitness says he heard distinct howls coming from different animals. In my opinion, this is a very credible report.”

The investigation involving the elk carcass is ongoing. CPW officers observed several large canid tracks from multiple animals around the carcass, and the tracks are consistent with wolf tracks and the carcass condition is consistent with wolf predation, the agency says.

The developments come as the Secretary of State’s Office said this week that Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund had submitted enough valid signatures to place a measure on this November’s ballot providing for reintroduction of wolves into western Colorado.

“The latest sightings add to other credible reports of wolf activity in Colorado over the past several years,” Romatzke said. “In addition to tracks, howls, photos and videos, the presence of one wolf was confirmed by DNA testing a few years ago, and in a recent case, we have photos and continue to track a wolf with a collar from Wyoming’s Snake River pack.”

This summer, authorities said a collared animal from that pack was documented in photos and video in Jackson County.

“It is inevitable, based on known wolf behavior, that they would travel here from states where their populations are well-established,” Romatzke said. “We have no doubt that they are here, and the most recent sighting of what appears to be wolves traveling together in what can be best described as a pack is further evidence of the presence of wolves in Colorado.”

Wolves are a federally endangered species and are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Denny Behrens of Grand Junction, who is co-chair of the Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition, said in a campaign email, “The out of state radical environmental groups pushing forced wolf introduction into Colorado have falsely claimed that there are no wolves present in Colorado. It’s just another false narrative to deceive the citizens of Colorado. The news from CPW … implodes their propaganda.”

Rob Edward, president of Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, said the presence of a wolf pack in the state would be great news if it’s confirmed. He said individual wolves have come into the state from time to time but have ended up being killed or disappearing. He doesn’t believe that the sporadic arrival of wolves into Colorado, even involving a pack, would be sufficient to result in the animal’s recovery in Colorado.

He said the one pack, the presence of which isn’t confirmed, “doesn’t equal and may not lead to recovery, that’s the bottom line, and so that’s why we’re focused on reintroduction. The news today doesn’t change the game for us at all.”

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