In progress for a persecuted species, Colorado is aiming to reintroduce endangered gray wolves by the end of the year.

Colorado voters demanded via ballot initiative in 2020 that gray wolves return to their historic range in the state by December 2023. Now, officials have taken a major step toward that goal with an approved reintroduction plan that will release 10 to 15 wolves each year onto state or private land, for the next three to five years.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued a statement calling the move a “responsible plan to implement the will of voters.”

It’s unclear how many gray wolves are in the state today. But as of 2020, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) reported sightings of as many as six gray wolves. Then, in 2021, came the fantastic news that a pair had given birth to six pups.

Under the plan, wolves would be considered a “threatened” state species once populations reach 50 wolves. They would be delisted as a state-endangered species if officials inventory 150 gray wolves over two years or 200 gray wolves at any given time.

But at no point would the wolves be considered a “game” animal, which would open them to organized hunting, according to news reports.

Some details haven’t been finalized yet, including the sourcing of the new wolves. The plan notes that prime candidates would be from wolf populations in Idaho and Montana — where they’ve been relentlessly persecuted as a species — as well as Wyoming, but the state also would consider exploring options with Oregon and Washington.

While the plan is hopeful progress for gray wolves, some advocates are concerned that preventative measures — such as quickly removing livestock carcasses — weren’t prioritized enough.

“If caution and coexistence are emphasized in those determinations, wolves stand a chance to thrive,” said Lindsay Larris, of WildEarth Guardians. “If not, there will likely be more conflict than there needs to be.” 

Colorado plans to monitor the introduced wolves via GPS collars and to pay for any proven depredations out of its wildlife cash fund. 

Currently, it’s illegal to hunt gray wolves or for ranchers to kill them. Violators face fines of up to $100,000, jail time, and a loss of their hunting licenses. 

We are ecstatic that this keystone species will soon be back home, and we urge Colorado to do everything in its power to protect these magnificent animals.

If you haven’t already, please sign our petition urging the United States to protect gray wolves by re-listing them nationwide!

SIGN: Re-list Gray Wolves Under Endangered Species Act To Prevent Massive Slaughter