A litter of gray wolves has been spotted in Colorado for the first time in almost 80 years.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials said members of their team have spotted three pups near Steamboat Springs, marking the first time since the early 1940s that the animal has been found in the state. Two older wolves, believed to be the parents, have also been seen.
“Colorado is now home to our first wolf litter since the 1940s. We welcome this historic den and the new wolf family to Colorado,” Governor Jarred Polis said in a statement. “With voter passage last year of the initiative to require reintroduction of the wolf by the end of 2023, these pups will have plenty of potential mates when they grow up to start their own families.”
Although just three pups have been spotted on three occasions, wildlife officials believe there could be more. Gray wolves typically have litters of four to six pups.
“We are continuing to actively monitor this den site while exercising extreme caution so as not to inadvertently jeopardize the potential survival of these pups,” said Libbie Miller, a CPW biologist. “Our hope is that we will eventually have photos to document this momentous occasion in Colorado’s incredible and diverse wildlife history. But not bothering them remains a paramount concern.”
Miller said staff have observed the pups only at dusk and dawn and are doing so from a distance of two miles. Despite the distance, officials have the proper equipment to be confident in their observations.
Keeping that distance is vital at this stage of the animals’ lives, according to Kris Middledorf, an area wildlife manager with CPW.
“It’s our priority to ensure that they have the chance to thrive,” Middledorf said. “So even as we have exciting news, we want to remind everyone that these animals remain endangered in Colorado.”
Officials are not certain where the adult wolves, dubbed John and Jane by CPW officials, came from to reach Colorado. Jane was first spotted in 2019, while John arrived in 2020.
“It’s incredible that these two adult animals have traveled the distance and overcome the challenges they have to get here,” Middledorf said. “And to now have pups in Colorado.”
Overhunting in the 1930s and 1940s of the mammals that constituted much of the wolves’ diet — bison, deer, and elk — forced them to turn to livestock to survive. That led the state to eradicate them from Colorado. But voters decided overwhelmingly last year to bring them back.
Gray wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2020, but they remain protected by state law in several locations, including Colorado. Those protections include severe penalties for killing or even harassing a gray wolf in the state. Killing a gray wolf can result in jail time, a $100,000 fine, and loss of hunting privileges.