Yellowstone wolf dies in Colorado | SummitDaily.com

Yellowstone wolf dies in Colorado

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Wildlife biologists are trying to determine what caused the death of a collared wolf in western Colorado after it wandered about 1,000 miles from Yellowstone. So far, officials have been tight-lipped about whether the wolf was killed by humans or if it died of natural causes during a harsh winter.

“We want to let our investigators do their job,” said Ed Bangs, gray wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Montana.

Another wolf that wandered from Yellowstone to Colorado in 2004 was killed by a car on I-70, east of Summit County.

Additionally, there have several other unconfirmed sightings of wolves in northern Colorado in recent years.

The wolf was tracked in Eagle County in mid-February. Wolf restoration advocates have long claimed there is adequate habitat and prey for the top-tier predators in Colorado, often naming the Flat Tops Wilderness as an area that could support a wolf poluation.

The issue is contentious because ranchers and others claim that wolves present a significant threat to livestock, pets and even children in rural parts of the state.

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Advocates of wolf restoration say polls suggest widespread support for bringing wolves back to Colorado. As key predators, wolves could help maintain healthy elk populations and restore balance to other ecosystems.

There is growing evidence that large elk herds have damaged willow areas and aspen forests by over-browsing. In a cascading effect, the damage affects many other species that rely on those habitats.

Wolves are native to Colorado but were wiped out by the 1930s after ranchers, government agents and others shot, trapped and poisoned the predator. They will come off the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho next month.

There are no current plans to pursue wolf restoration in Colorado, but local and state stakeholders met a few years ago to develop a contingency plan for managing the animals if they return to Colorado on their own.

“It’s encouraging that we have connectivity,” said Rob Edward, of WildEarth Guardians, referring to the wolf’s peregrination to Colorado. As populations grow in the northern Rockies, more of the animals will likely seek ancestral habitat farther south. Colorado needs to be prepared, Edward said.

“We need someone like a Mark Udall to stand up and say that we need wolves in Colorado for the environment,” Edward said.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is asking anyone with information on the Colorado wolf to call (877) COLO-OGT or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (970) 257-0795.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.