Two Colorado wolves wandering close to Wyoming border, where killing them is legal

Two of Colorado's released wolves have wandered dangerously close to Wyoming, where some of Colorado's naturally migrating wolves have been legally shot just inside the Cowboy State border.

Despite the danger, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife official told the Coloradoan the agency will take no action to prevent the wolves from moving into Wyoming, where killing wolves is legal year-round along the border.

"If our released wolves go north into Wyoming, they will do what they do and there is no plan to recapture those wolves," said Eric Odell, Colorado Parks and Wildlife's species conservation program manager who is overseeing the state wildlife agency's wolf reintroduction effort.

Two of the 10 wolves released Dec. 18-22 in Grand and Summit counties were confirmed by the state wildlife agency to have recently entered Moffat County in northwest Colorado. All of the released wolves were fitted with GPS tracking collars.

Moffat County sheep rancher Jorgiea Raftopoulos told the Coloradoan she found wolf tracks confirmed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Feb. 16 a mile from her ranch house near Hamilton, which is 15 miles south of Craig. That would place the wolves about 43 miles from the Wyoming border.

Moffat County sheep rancher Jorgiea Raftopoulos places her hand next to a wolf track she found Feb. 16, 2024, along a county road a mile from her ranch house near Hamilton, Colo.
Moffat County sheep rancher Jorgiea Raftopoulos places her hand next to a wolf track she found Feb. 16, 2024, along a county road a mile from her ranch house near Hamilton, Colo.

Wolves can wander 30 to 50 miles in a day. However, the two wolves have traveled about 65 miles from their release site in the two months since being captured in Oregon and released in Colorado. Their movement has been northwest from their release site in the direction of Wyoming.

The initial release sites are approximately 75 miles from the Wyoming border.

Colorado's wolf recovery plan called for release sites to be a minimum of 60 miles from borders with other states and tribal lands. This was based on reintroduced wolves in the mid-1990s in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho dispersing on average 50 miles but with a range of 22 to 140 miles.

Three or four of Colorado's North Park wolfpack and four from the state's former Moffat County pack, which had naturally migrated into Colorado over the last several years, were legally shot in Wyoming, according to previous reporting by the Coloradoan and WyoFile.

"I think there's certainly a possibility something like that could happen there (Wyoming), but we just don’t have the ability to do anything," Odell said, noting wolves are federally protected in Colorado.

Wyoming has refused to enter into an agreement to allow Colorado officials to capture released wolves if they go into Wyoming. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has recapture agreements of released wolves with Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

Wyoming, Montana and Idaho refused to serve as wolf sources for Colorado's reintroduction effort.

"There is no anticipation of having discussions with Wyoming," Odell said about the possibility of coming to a recapture agreement with Wyoming.

He said more movements of the wolves will be made available when Colorado Parks and Wildlife's next monthly wolf map is made public Feb. 28.

This is the initial map released by Colorado Parks and Wildlife showing the movements of Colorado's 12 collared wolves Dec. 18, 2023, through Jan. 22, 2024.
This is the initial map released by Colorado Parks and Wildlife showing the movements of Colorado's 12 collared wolves Dec. 18, 2023, through Jan. 22, 2024.

What have Colorado's wolves been up to since being released two months ago?

Odell said all the released wolves are still alive and tracking collars have shown lots of movement by the wolves, "with individuals bouncing around."

There have been confirmed sightings of released wolves around Kremmling, in western Routt County and Moffat County.

Odell said field reports have shown tracks of released wolves around elk carcasses. He also believes the wolves have killed deer. He said the agency has kept its distance from the wolves so as not to push them off wildlife carcasses.

What they haven't done since being released is kill livestock, Odell said.

"There have been no reported livestock depredations, so they are doing what we want them do," he said. "We don’t want to create conflict when there isn’t any."

Colorado Parks and Wildlife was widely criticized by Colorado ranchers for capturing wolves known to be from packs involved in livestock depredations in Oregon and releasing them in Colorado. Odell said the fact that there have been no reported livestock depredations two months after wolves were released is an indication the agency chose the right wolves from Oregon.

"The wolves we selected in Oregon were not in current depredation," Odell said. "We are still confident we chose the right animals and that has played out with just over two months and no reported depredations."

Odell said wolves are coming into their breeding season with wolf pups usually born in April or May.

He said the yearling female wolves released were born in the spring of 2022, which makes them sexually mature enough to potentially produce pups this spring.

In the spring of 2021, the parents of the North Park pack produced six pups, Colorado's first wolf pups in 80 years. It is believed three or four of those offspring were legally shot in Wyoming and that the mother of the pack is dead from an unknown cause.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has fitted the only two known North Park wolfpack members remaining with GPS collars.

Moffat County ranchers getting nervous now that wolves have arrived

Raftopoulos said seeing wolf tracks for the first time, especially so close to her ranch house, was concerning.

"We are accustomed to other predators, but honestly it's a pretty uneasy feeling seeing the tracks," said Raftopoulos, whose family runs around 10,000 head of sheep and several hundred head of cattle in Moffat County. "It's hard to believe the emotions seeing those tracks evoke."

She said the two wolves have not harmed any livestock and that their tracks have not been seen again.

She said Colorado Parks and Wildlife did contact area ranchers and notified them that wolves had entered Moffat County.

Raftopoulos said the ranch has used guardian sheep dogs and sheepherders for years and has fitted its cattle with glow-in-the-dark flashing ear tags to help spook the wolves.

"We have been working to be get ready with other nonlethal mitigation tools, especially now that calving season is coming up," she said. "This has concerned a lot of producers, and we are going to do whatever we need to do to protect our livestock."

Odell said Colorado Parks and Wildlife's local officials will continue to help Moffat County ranchers and ranchers elsewhere to mitigate wolf conflicts.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Will Colorado prevent reintroduced wolves from going into Wyoming?