After news that wolves had moved into Colorado filled headlines across the nation near the start of 2020, interest has remained high in regard to the pack's activity in the state.
A new report from Colorado Public Radio investigates the claim that "at least three" of Colorado's wolves have been shot and killed, with signs pointing to the killings happening while the wolves roamed across the border in Wyoming. The anonymous tip about the wolves was received by a Montana state senator and the CPR team reports that they've since verified that multiple government agencies are aware of the possible deaths.
As shown on the 2020 gray wolf hunting map for the state of Wyoming, the species is considered a predatory animal in all areas of the state aside from a portion in the northwest corner. Because the gray wolf is considered a predatory animal, they may be legally killed without a license in many cases. Wolves have been classified as a predatory animal in this area due to their potential impact on local livestock.
This large legal kill zone that exists in Wyoming has historically made it difficult for wolves to move south into Colorado since their eradication from the state around 1940.
If Colorado is only home to a few wolves in a single pack as has been previously indicated, these deaths could be detrimental to the natural re-development of a wolf population in the state.
John Murtaugh, a representative of Defenders of Wildlife, has stated that the pack near Moffat is believed to consist of a single breeding pair and four offspring, with a later report indicating that another young pup may have been birthed into the group several months ago. At least four of the wolves have been confirmed as likely siblings based on a scat analysis.
Wild wolves typically don't start reproducing until about two to three years into their life, breeding once a year throughout an average lifespan of five to six years. Couple this limited breeding with wolves' tendency to avoid mating within the pack and it's easy to see how some wolf populations can struggle to grow.
If the breeding wolves of the pack were killed, the pack will likely stop growing in the present. If the young wolves were killed, this would be a blow to the aging breeders' chances of successfully raising offspring to sexual maturity. Either way, the death of three wolves would likely limit the already low chance of this pack successfully establishing a population in the Centennial State.
According to Murtaugh, re-establishing the wolf population in Colorado would likely mean the reintroduction of at least 20 to 30 wolves.
While the speculation that the wolves may have been killed continues to spread, this claim has not been confirmed by an official agency.
If it's determined that any wolves have been killed in Colorado, this could result in penalties of up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine per offense. This is because wolves are still protected in the state by the Endangered Species Act.
Read CPR's full report on the case here.