The Wyoming-based nonprofit news organization obtained documents from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and interviewed unnamed hunters who shot wolves in May 2020.
Toward the end of 2019, there was a flurry of wolf sightings in Moffat County. Those reports, including a video taken on Oct. 2, 2019, clearly showed the presence of wolves in the area, one of the first times the carnivore had been seen back in Colorado since they were killed off in the state in the 1940s.
In a February 2020 press release, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed wolves after testing scat samples found near an elk carcass hunters described as “torn apart.”
Killing these wolves would have been illegal in Colorado, where wolves are protected by the Endangered Species Act. That isn’t the case in Wyoming.
Three months after CPW confirmed there were wolves in Colorado, hunters lured them across the Colorado-Wyoming border and legally shot them, according to a report earlier this week from WyoFile, a Wyoming-based non-profit news organization founded in 2009.
The report, which sources documents WyoFile obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that wasn’t the first time migrant wolves staying in Colorado strayed back out of the state to be met in Wyoming by a hunter’s gun.
The first was taken within a few hundred yards of the border on May 11, 2019, roughly nine months before officials acknowledged the presence of wolves in Colorado, WyoFile reports. Three more were taken the following spring — one in April and two more in May.
“It was no mistaken shooting,” the hunter told WyoFile, who did not name the hunter as they had done nothing illegal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined. “We knew what it was. And when we saw it, we wanted it.”
The trend would continue, with four wolves from the closely-watched pack in North Park near Walden meeting the same fate as they wandered away from safety in Colorado to Wyoming, where wolves can be legally killed outside of the far Northwest of the state near Yellowstone National Park. In the rest of the state, the so-called predator zone, there are no regulations protecting wolves.
As WyoFile put it, “Virtually anything goes.”
The report of these wolf killings — the first time this information has been shared with the public — shows why wolves have not taken hold in Colorado despite a presence that dates back nearly five years, WyoFile reports. It also comes as CPW’s voter-imposed reintroduction of wolves is expected to take place later this month, somewhere in a broad northern zone that includes parts of South Routt County.
Knowledge of the killings may also have factored into CPW’s Wolf Reintroduction plan, had they been shared with the public. In some cases, hunters used electronic auditory calls to lure wolves across the border, a topic that was discussed several times by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission — as it worked to put emergency regulations in place to allow ranchers to haze wolves away and when crafting the plan that will guide Colorado’s reintroduction effort.
That reintroduction plan does allow for wolves to be killed in some cases, particularly if they are in the act of attacking livestock. Hunters told WyoFile one wolf killed in Wyoming may have been “in some cattle,” but they didn’t kill that wolf and documents don’t disclose who did.
Conflicts between wolves and livestock has been a consistent issue with the North Park wolf pack, with Steamboat Radio reporting last month that three lambs were killed on Nov. 17 — the latest of several incidents in North Park that string back to December 2021.