Many ranchers and hunters oppose the program over concerns of livestock and big game predation
Wildlife officials released five wolves in a remote part of Colorado's Rocky Mountains as part of a voter-approved reintroduction program.
The wolf’s reintroduction was supported by those who live in the state’s urban corridor, but mostly opposed by ranchers worried about livestock predation.
According to Fox News, the wolves, which were captured in Oregon, were released on Monday, December 18, 2023, after a judge denied a request from the state’s cattle industry for a temporary delay to the release.
Wolves "have larger-than-life places in human imagination, in the stories we all grew up with and tell each other," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who was present for the release, told Fox News. "To see them in their natural habitat, and turn around look curiously at us ... is really, really a special moment that I will treasure for my entire life."
Colorado officials plan to release 30 to 50 wolves within the next five years in an effort to repopulate one of the last remaining areas without the species in the western U.S. Historically, gray wolves roamed from northern Canada to the desert Southwest. Gray wolves once inhabited most of Colorado, but essentially disappeared after the 1940s due to a government-sponsored extermination campaign.
The release plan, which was voted for in a 2020 ballot measure, was sharply contested between rural and urban residents. City and suburb residents largely supported the reintroduction while those in rural areas opposed it due to the threat of predation on both livestock and big game animals, such as elk, that are sought by hunters. The vote to introduce the wolves passed narrowly with 50.1% for and 49.9% against.
Under the 10(j) rule, wolves are considered an experimental population and are no longer considered an endangered species in Colorado. Wolves can be killed if they attack livestock, and ranchers can be compensated for livestock losses. The government will pay fair market value of up to $15,000 per animal to ranchers who lose livestock or herding and guard animals to wolf attacks.
Hunting groups have also expressed fear that the wolves will reduce the size of elk herds and other big game animals in the region.