Gray wolf removed from federal endangered species protections

COLORADO – Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported, on Thursday, Oct. 29, the Department of the Interior announced a rule to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) nationwide. The rule was published in the Federal Register on November 3, 2020, and went into effect on January 4, 2021.

Now that wolves are delisted from the ESA, states and tribes resume the management of the species, and state statutes/regulations apply. In Colorado, the species remains a state endangered species, and penalties under C.R.S. 33-6-109, including fines, jail time and/or a loss of license privileges apply.

Previous federal rules delisting gray wolves have routinely been litigated once finalized. If that pattern continues, which is likely, federal listing status may be unclear in the immediate term. Regardless, the species remains listed as endangered under state law in Colorado, and take of gray wolves will remain prohibited.

Colorado is part of the gray wolf’s native range, but wolves were eradicated from the state by the 1940s. Over the past two decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) restored gray wolves into Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona. Individual wolves, and most recently a group of wolves in Moffat County, have been periodically migrating into Colorado. It is possible that wolves from the south may do so someday as well.

To prepare for any future wolf migrations into Colorado, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) created a multi-disciplinary working group that drafted a Wolf Management Plan. The wolf working group’s recommendations were adopted in their entirety by the Colorado Wildlife Commission at its May 2005 meeting, and affirmed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2016.

Proposition 114, a ballot initiative to introduce wolves west of the continental divide, was voted on by Coloradans in November 2020. Proposition 114, a ballot initiative directing the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to introduce gray wolves onto the Western Slope of Colorado, passed on November 3, 2020.

Proposition 114 directs the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to:

Develop a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves in Colorado by December 31, 2023, on designated lands west of the Continental Divide;

Hold statewide hearings about scientific, economic, and social considerations;

Periodically obtain public input to update the plan; and

Use state funds to assist livestock owners in preventing conflicts with gray wolves and pay fair compensation for livestock losses.

The initial directive of Proposition 114 is for the Commission and Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff to create a plan, so it should be understood that this is not a plan that is already created and available to be released immediately.

A broad-based agreement on how CPW would manage the species via natural migration resulted from a wolf management working group CPW convened in 2004. In 2016, the Parks and Wildlife Commission considered the issue of wolf reintroduction and affirmed the recommendations from the working group, which supports the presence of wolves in Colorado, with conditions, and via natural migration into the state not through intentional reintroduction. With the passage of Proposition 114 and the delisting of the species since, CPW has regained management authority of gray wolves in the state from USFWS. CPW will utilize the 2004 working group plan until the new plan required by the ballot initiative is developed.