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Colorado’s collared gray wolves form the Copper Creek Pack

Six months ago, ten gray wolves from Oregon were released into the Colorado mountains, wearing GPS tracking collars. An adult male was found dead in April in Larimer County, likely killed by a mountain lion.

On June 18, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) spotted a wolf pup in Grand County, ushering in the age of the Copper Creek Pack. Officials have only seen one pup but there could be more.

“That puppy is our hope for the future of Colorado,” said ecologist Delia Malone, who worked on the wolf reintroduction ballot initiative. She told KDNK that all of the wolves translocated to Colorado are dealing with a steep learning curve. “The pup is learning how to be a wolf. The pup is learning what its new land is like,” she explained. “Parents are learning what their new landscape is like because they were, you know, taken out of one place and dropped into another.”

CPW monitors the wolves and plots their movement every month on an online map. The map shows watersheds on the Front Range and the Western Slope. The maps are not in real time - they show past wolf movement and locations due to how the data is collected. Also, if a particular watershed shows wolf activity, it does not mean that the animals are present throughout the entire watershed or that they are still in the watershed.

So where have the wolves traveled this month?

According tothe map, from May 21 through June 25, there’s a definite spreading out. Some wolves moved deeper into Eagle County, covering the area north of I70, and southeast of Vail into Lake County. Wolves have also been tracked in the southeastern part of Routt County, the northeastern portion of Garfield County, deeper into Larimer County just north of Red Feather Lakes and Grand County north of Granby all the way into Boulder County.

CPW’s confirmed wolf depredation list shows two calves downed in Jackson County and one in Routt County but no claims have been filed.

On June 13, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted 6 -3 to allow livestock growers to use artificial light at night to help kill wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock. Malone said the so-called nighttime aids include spotlights. “But in addition to spotlights, that includes thermal imaging and infrared lights that are basically developed for war so that soldiers can see their enemies at night and kill them,” she said.

Up to now, reports the Colorado Sun, livestock growers could only use night vision optics to haze wolves. They can also kill a wolf if they catch it attacking livestock during the day. But, this new rule will change that and could create problems, said Malone. “One of the many difficulties is that a wolf and wolves have more often than not been documented to move through a herd of cows without any intention of predating those cattle.” she explained. “So, if some rancher is out there with his night scope and his thermal imaging and sees a wolf moving through the cows, the cows bellow, and he takes a shot, probably a very accurate shot because he has a scope. He kills a wolf that was not trying to predate livestock. So mistakes can easily be made.” (Malone pointed to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.)

The agency also approved a 45-day permit for killing chronically depredating wolves, classifying bison as livestock to allow bison ranchers compensation for wolf kills and reimbursement for livestock lost in “pooled herds”.

CPW is also in the process of convening a new working group made up of wolf advocates and livestock growers to help implement the wolf management plan.

Amy Hadden Marsh’s reporting goes back to 1990 and includes magazine, radio, newspaper and online work. She has previously served as reporter and news director for KDNK Community Radio, earning Edward R. Murrow and Colorado Broadcasters Association awards for her work. She also writes for Aspen Journalism and received a Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies award in 2023 for a story on the Uinta Basin Railway. Her photography has also won awards. She holds a Masters in Investigative Journalism from Regis University.