Possible wolf sightings add to Colo. debate

SPECIAL TO THE SENTINEL/Colorado Parks and Wildlife An image of what appears to be a radio-collared wolf was sent to Colorado Parks and Wildlife by a member of the public near Colorado State Forest State Park on Monday.

A collar-wearing animal recently documented in photos and video in Jackson County has been confirmed to be a gray wolf from Wyoming.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife said in a news release that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department says the animal is a male gray wolf from the Snake River pack, and was last recorded by transmission signals Feb. 13 during routine telemetry flights around South Pass.

That is between Lander and Rock Springs in southern Wyoming.

A private citizen took the images and video of the wolf in Jackson County and provided them to CPW over the weekend. CPW said it will continue to monitor the area but is no longer actively looking for the wolf.

"We will remain in close communication with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and local municipalities," CPW said in its release.

The wolf is protected in Colorado by the Endangered Species Act, meaning it's illegal to kill, harm or harass the animal except in self-defense.

Wolves occasionally have entered Colorado over the years but there is no permanent population.

Among confirmed cases of wolves in the state in recent years were one that was reportedly mistaken for a coyote and shot and killed near Kremmling in 2015, one that died of poisoning south of Meeker in 2009, and one that was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs in 2004.

Another wolf-like animal was photographed about a month ago in Grand County but wasn't wearing a collar, CPW says.

The arrival of the Jackson County wolf comes amidst a push by wolf activists to get a measure on a statewide ballot to require CPW to restore wolves to the state. They contend wolves won't likely naturally repopulate the state, but opponents of the initiative fear impacts to wildlife, livestock and humans from a reintroduction program.

Dick Ray is a Pagosa Springs outfitter on the steering committee of the Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition, which opposes the ballot initiative.

He worked as an outfitter in wolf and grizzly bear country in British Columbia from 1978-91, and said it's possible that wolves could slowly repopulate in Colorado on their own through natural selection in which smart, shy, less aggressive ones would survive and reproduce.

But he thinks reintroducing wolves also would bring in curious, aggressive ones, resulting in more conflicts with livestock and hikers with dogs.

He thinks that's unfair to wolves. Ray believes they fare better in places like sparsely populated British Columbia, which he said also doesn't have cattle operations, than they would if reintroduced in Colorado.

"If you think about the wolf and you care about the wolf itself, leave him … where he is at, he's doing fine," Ray said.

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