Two wolves collared in Northern Colorado after GPS devices stopped working last year

One wolf had been collared two years ago and the other is part of Colorado's first litter of pups in decades

Dylan Anderson
Steamboat Pilot & Today

WALDEN — After previously placed collars stopped working last year, officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife have put new GPS tracking devices on two wolves in North Park near Walden, including one that was captured two years ago.

Three wolves in the North Park pack had collars at one point — two placed by CPW and a third that was on one of the wolves when it migrated into Colorado. But the collars stopped working last year, according to CPW.

On Thursday, Feb. 2, a CPW contractor located two male wolves and shot them with a tranquilizer from a helicopter, allowing staff on the ground to collar the wolves.

“Both animals we caught together in an area of North Park where we have been receiving reports from the public in the past couple weeks,” said Eric Odell, Species Conservation Program manager for the agency, in a news release on Friday, Feb. 3.

The pack in North Park comes from wolves that migrated into Colorado from Wyoming. Two years ago, a mating pair had Colorado’s first litter of pups in decades. CPW officials believe the pack had as many as eight wolves in it last year, though three of the wolves appear to have been legally killed by hunters in Wyoming in the fall.

The pack has forced ranchers and wildlife officials to confront many of the fears that loomed across the Western Slope when voters narrowly approved reintroducing the species to the state in 2020. The draft plan for reintroduction was released in December. It details how 10 to 15 wolves will be released before the end of the year in an area that includes part of South Routt County.

The pack has killed livestock and cattle dogs near Walden, which has led CPW to pursue emergency hazing regulations to allow ranchers to protect their herds. Those regulations were reviewed after wolves were relisted as endangered in February 2022.

The two wolves collared include male wolf 2101, which is the male of the mating pair that produced six pups in 2021. CPW had captured and collared this wolf before, but the collar had since stopped working.

“2101’s collar had failed, and we could see it was damaged,” Odell said. “Wolves are rough on collars, and that’s to be expected that in time. Collars will fail.”

The other wolf is male 2301, which is believed to be one of the six pups born in 2021.

“Refitting 2101 and having a second GPS collar will allow our biologists and wildlife managers to continue learning about the behavior of these wolves,” said CPW’s Acting Director Heather Disney Dugan.

CPW’s team was working to place collars on wolves in North Park in conjunction with elk and moose collaring efforts also taking place in the area. Both wolves were given a health exam, which showed they “appear to be in good health,” Odell said.

While a handful of wolves have migrated into Colorado from Wyoming or been born to wolves that did, the state’s reintroduction effort has not started yet. According to the ballot measure approved in 2020, paws need to be on the ground by the end of this year.

The pack in North Park is the only confirmed group of wolves in the state, despite potential evidence of them elsewhere. Wolves were initially blamed for the deaths of cattle near Meeker, though further investigation revealed little evidence of what killed the cattle and wildlife officials couldn’t find evidence of wolves in the area.

In December, a resident in South Routt County spotted potential wolf tracks, but CPW hasn’t been able to confirm wolves based on those tracks alone.

The agency has a wolf sighting form it asks people to use if they suspect they’ve seen a wolf or evidence of one.

“While collars provide valuable information, they only provide a snapshot and are not monitored in real time,” CPW stated in the news release. “The primary tools used by wildlife officers are field observations of physical evidence such as wolf prints and scat during field investigations to verify the presence of wolves on the landscape.”

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