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Colorado proposes to move as many as 50 wolves into the state over the next five years

Seven wolves walk across snowy ground, with a stand of bare trees in the background.
Douglas Smith
National Park Service
A gray wolf pack photographed in 2011.

As many as 15 wolves from the Northern Rockies could be captured next winter and quickly released to a new home in Colorado somewhere near Vail and Glenwood Springs.

That’s just the start of a complicated vision Colorado Parks and Wildlife outlined in a draft of its highly anticipated wolf reintroduction plan that was unveiled Friday.

The 293-page document was written more than two years after Colorado voters narrowly approved a measure requiring the state to release grey wolves on the West Slope sometime before 2024.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife
The area circled in green is the top location Parks and Wildlife is eying as a wolf release sight next winter. The area in yellow is an alternative site for future years.

It also follows months of hearings and meetings all around the state.

Parks and Wildlife is proposing to release about 10-15 wolves each year until as many as 50 have been successfully reintroduced to Colorado.

“The greatest challenges associated with wolf restoration and wolf management in Colorado are primarily going to come from social and political issues, rather than the biological issues, said Eric Odell, the species conservation program manager for parks and Wildlife. “The primary goal of this plan is to establish a self-sustaining population of wolves.”

Odell said challenges lie ahead, including potential conflicts between wolves and livestock.

What has wolf management been like in other Western states? KUNC talked to a Wyoming wolf expert

The reintroduction plan includes a promise to compensate ranchers for livestock that are killed by wolves, with a maximum payout of $8,000 per animal lost.

Parks and Wildlife is also promising to create a stockpile of equipment that ranchers could use to protect their animals from nearby wolf packs, including electrified fencing.

The plan says killing wolves "should not generally be the initial response to conflicts, however there may be certain conditions under which lethal removal of wolves may be used first to support effective conflict management.

The plan is not final, however, and Parks and Wildlife will hold several public hearings in the coming months before the state wildlife commission votes on a final version in May.

Odell said every wolf that is released in Colorado will be equipped with a GPS collar and a mortality sensor that biologists can use to track the animals and watch their progress.

The drop-off location between Glenwood Springs and Vail was chosen in part because wolves are known to travel long distances, and officials want to minimize the chance they’ll travel across state lines.

Read the full draft plan here.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.