Wolf sighting doesn’t mean animals have returned to Rocky Mountain National Park | SkyHiNews.com

Wolf sighting doesn’t mean animals have returned to Rocky Mountain National Park

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain National Park

Wolf tracks may have been found in Rocky Mountain National Park in December, but chances are slim that means the carnivore has returned to Colorado, scientists say.

On Dec. 4, two experienced volunteers in Rocky Mountain National Park observed a large black animal and were certain it was a wolf or wolf hybrid.

Biologists later analyzed the animal’s tracks in the snow. They were 4.5 inches wide and 5 inches long, in Moraine Park.

Scientists ruled out dog tracks as well as coyote’s.

Most logically, they belonged to a wolf, said Park spokesperson Larry Frederick, but a wolf hybrid has not been ruled out.

A fur sample or scat has not yet been identified to apply genetic testing, Frederick said.

A matter of time

It’s not all that unusual for a wolf, treated as an endangered species in Colorado, to strike out into territory once home to wolves until the 1930s.

About 1,500 wild wolves live in the Northern Rocky Mountain region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. And Colorado is linked to supporting wolf habitat.

In recent years, two wolves ” perhaps now three ” have been spotted in Colorado. The first was killed by a vehicle on 1-70. The other wandered in north of Walden, near the Wyoming-Colorado border, and eventually returned on his own.

If the tracks in the Park were in fact a wolf’s, the animal most likely came from Wyoming, experts guess.

But if it was a single wolf, it doesn’t mean much in terms of wolf revival in the Centennial State.

“Wolves are looking for territory. They are also looking for other wolves,” said Ed Bangs, Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Cheyenne, Wyo. “Colorado wolves often don’t stay.”

The absence of a pack or even another wolf discourages them from sticking around, Bangs said.

But not now

Wolves tend to disperse in December and January in search of mates for February breeding.

The average gray wolf can wander 1,500 square miles; an average pack can cover 200-500 square miles.

Therefore, if more tracks show up in the Park, or there are more sightings of this suspected wolf, “it’s more likely not a wild wolf,” Bangs said.

There are an estimated 300,000 wolf dogs in captivity or in private ownership. And in Yellowstone, there have been several incidences of people turning dog-wolf hybrids loose to save them from euthanization.

In greater Yellowstone, 390 wild gray wolves roam, and experts say the Rocky Mountain chain is a logical migration of those wolves. None would be surprised if two or more eventually show up here.

But this particular wolf sighting has stirred speculation, Bangs said.

“I’m a little suspicious when they show up where people actually want them to.

Normally they show up where we don’t want them to,” he said. If they can get away with it, wolves prefer scavenging over hunting.”

The canid could have been a captive wolf deliberately dropped in the Park for a number of possible reasons, he deduced. One of those is a natural answer to the Park’s elk population ” right on the heels of the final adoption of the Park’s elk management plan.

“My initial reaction was, ‘Why would a wolf show up there?'” Bangs said. “In the National Park there are too many elk, that’s a little too coincidental to me.”

“Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext.19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.

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