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Wolves are coming back to Colorado this month

A black female wolf pup sits in snow in a flat brushy terrain visible far into the distance.
Eric Odell/AP
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
A female wolf pup is seen in North Park, Colo, in this February 2022 photograph. A handful of the predators have wandered into Colorado from Wyoming in recent years.

When Europeans arrived in North America, there were millions of wolves on the continent. In Colorado, they were eradicated completely by the 1940s. In hopes of protecting the species, wolves will soon be reintroduced to Colorado – an ideal wolf habitat, according to some experts.

This month, Colorado is working to transplant a wolf population to the Western Slope. Helicopter teams plan to tranquilize about 10 radio-collared wolves in Oregon and fly them to Colorado. It’s the culmination of a statewide vote on the matter taken in 2020.

Joanna Lambert, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, has advocated for reintroducing wolves to the state. She said the Western Slope is perfect terrain for wolves.

“There are 22 million acres of public land on the Western Slope. Upwards of 70% of the Western Slope is either federal or state public lands that are protected in one way or another,” Lambert said.

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Not only is the land protected, but there is an abundance of large game that wolves can hunt. But Lambert aid the gray wolf population is a fraction of its former glory.

“(There were) maybe a million to two million gray wolves roaming the continent of North America. And then, you know, fast forward to the 1960s and we've just got a few hundred. Indeed, they were one of the very first species that went onto the Endangered Species Act,” Lambert said.

As Europeans arrived, they eradicated wolves as quickly as they could.

“Wolves and other predators were viewed as a threat to Manifest Destiny. Starting in the 19th century into the 20th century was a concerted effort to remove predators of all kinds because of how they were viewed as a threat to livestock – and this was a predator control program that was extremely efficient,” Lambert said.

It will be a long time before the wolf population bounces back, but if all goes according to plan, soon howls will again be heard over the slopes of Colorado.

As a general assignment reporter and backup host, I gather news and write stories for broadcast, and I fill in to host for Morning Edition or All Things Considered when the need arises.
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