Potential release area for gray wolves includes Summit County | SummitDaily.com

Potential release area for gray wolves includes Summit County

Colorado Parks and Wildlife presented a new proposed map of potential areas to reintroduce wolves on the Western Slope, including Summit County and other mountain communities.

Eric Odell, species conservation program manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said that the map is not final and will likely change before the December final draft presentation, but the stretch of land between Glenwood Springs and Summit County and south to Montrose and Gunnison provides an area that would have minimal conflicts as well as good habitat for gray wolves.

The map was based on some input from the technical working group and others working on reintroduction. Other constraints were 60-mile buffers from the Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico borders, as well as buffers protecting Tribal Lands. 

On the map, most of Summit County is marked as having high ecological suitability for gray wolves and a low conflict risk. Some small areas in the southern portion of the county near Breckenridge are marked as having a low ecologic suitability and low conflict risk. Odell said the map presented was centered around areas suitable for a winter release, and the map of management and release will likely change if releases were to happen in summer months, since times of the year dictate conflict risk and management decisions.

Communities like Steamboat Springs and Craig are not included on the map, but Odell said that does not mean that they are excluded from ever having wolves.

“The grayed out areas are not to be interpreted as areas where we do not want wolves,” Odell said. “This is just to constrain the area where releases will happen. We know full well wolves will expand beyond this doughnut hole and go into two areas both east and west of the Continental Divide, and they will inhabit that area. This map should not be interpreted as being the only places where wolves will be tolerated or managed within the state.”

Reid DeWalt, assistant director of aquatic, terrestrial and natural resources at Parks and Wildlife, said that there would be no one specific point of introduction, but instead there will be several sites where the state will reintroduce the species. 

“It’s going to be very important that we talk to those local citizens — we actually talked about the stakeholder advisory group and the role that they can serve,” DeWalt said. “We don’t want this to happen in secrecy or in a box of any sorts. Communication to local governments to local citizens needs to occur, and I think you’ll see those conversations as we continue to hone in on this. There’s ranchers that need to be aware, and all kinds of folks that need to know this is where we may release wolves. It could be in your neighborhood (and) that type of stuff — just so everyone is prepared. This is the first step. We didn’t want to wait till the plan was all done and we want to start that now.”

DeWalt said it is very unlikely that the wolves stay in the general region where they are introduced, and it is expected that they will head toward the Front Range, other parts of the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains. Currently, there is one pack that has been documented by the public in Jackson County near North Park, and Parks and Wildlife does not have any data on the wolf pack that recently lived in Moffat County. There is no evidence that suggests that the wolves were killed illegally in Colorado.

“In order to be successful in this, we want to have the highest likelihood of success so that we’re not dealing with depredations,” Odell said. 

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