Wolves could be released in South Routt, preliminary map shows | CraigDailyPress.com

Wolves could be released in South Routt, preliminary map shows

Dylan Anderson
Steamboat Pilot & Today
A black wolf photographed in the North Park area near Walden on Aug. 21, 2022.
Colorado Parks And Wildlife/Courtesy photo

When gray wolves are reintroduced on the Western Slope, they could be released in South Routt County.

A map presented to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in early September shows an area in the center of the state where CPW officials say they will release wolves, though the specific spots haven’t been chosen at this point.

The map includes a 60-mile buffer from any state or tribal nation boarder — a recommendation made by a technical advisory group — meaning areas south of Toponas are a potential release point, but most of Routt County wouldn’t be eligible.

“This isn’t where wolves are going to stay, this is where they are going to be released” said Reid DeWalt, CPW’s assistant director of aquatic, terrestrial and natural resources. “We should expect wolves to go into every valley in the state that has suitable habitat, whether it’s Front Range, Eastern Slope or Western Slope.”

The two working groups helping CPW craft a plan for wolf reintroduction wrapped up their work last month, and DeWalt said the final plan has been drafted internally and is now in the hands of CPW’s leadership.

That plan will be presented to the CPW commission in December. The commission then has meetings scheduled for January and February to get public input on the plan.

The plan may require the commission to approve new regulations, which DeWalt said would be handled at meetings in April and May. The final plan will be before the commission for approval in May, DeWalt said.

The area in the center of this map is where Colorado Parks and Wildlife will release wolves, though specific sites haven’t been released yet.
Colorado Parks And Wildlife/Courtesy image

“Then we’ll have a lot of work to do to meet that statutory deadline, actually obtaining wolves, making sure all the physical pieces are in place and getting them on the ground by December 2023,” DeWalt said.

That plan is expected to include more specific locations where wolves will be released than the one presented this month. September’s presentation included a map that takes into account the ecological suitability for wolves of various areas, as well as the potential for conflict with livestock.

“The really challenging areas are those that are purple, where ecological suitability is high and the conflict risk is high,” said Eric Odell, Species Conservation Program manager for CPW.

This map depicts the ecological suitability for wolves and the potential for conflict with livestock. Purple areas denote both are high, areas in pink show just where conflict potential is high and areas in green mark where just ecological suitability is high.
Colorado Parks And Wildlife/Courtesy image

The area of South Routt County where wolves could be reintroduced includes areas that are shaded purple. Odell said CPW would use this map to help identify spots that are suitable for wolves to be released, and that areas with high ecological suitability and low conflict possibility would be ideal.

“This helps us frame that discussion,” Odell said.

While CPW won’t release wolves as far north as Steamboat Springs, there are already seven wolves in the North Park area near Walden.

CPW attached a tracking collar to two of these wolves and one of them already had a collar on it when it migrated down from Wyoming. Odell said all three of those collars are no longer working.

One collar had reached the end of its battery life, but the two CPW installed have malfunctioned, Odell said.

Still, CPW is still monitoring the wolves in North Park and photos taken at the end of August shared with CPW show that of the seven wolves, six are black and one is gray. The gray wolf is the father of pups that were born in spring of 2021, but there is no evidence the pair of wolves had more pups this year, Odell said.

The technical working group for reintroduction has recommended that all wolves released in Colorado as part of reintroduction should have tracking collars. Odell said CPW hopes to get new collars on some of the North Park wolves this winter.

“We have collars in hand and do intend to capture again this winter to deploy more collars on this pack,” Odell said.

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