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Oregon to donate gray wolves to Colorado

A wolf in the snow
Doug Smith
National Parks Service
Northwest wolves could one day head to Colorado. Wildlife managers there say they need to bring in wolves from out of state to rebuild their wolf population.

Colorado aims to restore gray wolves to that state by the end of the year, and it’s getting some help from Oregon.

The two states have partnered to relocate 10 wolves from northeastern Oregon — where Oregon wildlife officials said populations are high enough that removing a few wolves won’t hurt local conservation efforts.

There are about 180 known wolves in Oregon, according to the last count in December 2022.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff will provide some help by sharing wolf location information and best practices for capturing them. Otherwise, Colorado will pay for all costs associated with capturing and transporting them.

Colorado’s wildlife department will contract helicopters and spotter planes to capture wolves starting in December. They’ll conduct brief physicals, checking for age, illnesses and injuries. Then they’ll transport the wolves in aluminum crates by truck or airplane. Wildlife managers say they’ll release the wolves as quickly as possible, to limit stress, resettling them along Colorado’s Western Slope.

The work will last into March.

Colorado wildlife officials aim to relocate an even number of males and females. They need to be free of disease and illnesses such as mange or lice infestations. They also can’t have a history of killing livestock. Biologists expect the wolves’ ages to range between 1 and 5 when wolves typically disperse from the packs into which they were born.

In the past, Oregon has been able to restore wildlife through similar partnerships with other states, like Rocky Mountain elk and goats, as well as bighorn sheep.

Wolves in Colorado historically relied on bison as their main prey, but bison were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century. As farmers and ranchers expanded into their territories, wolves began preying on livestock. The state established a bounty for killing them in 1869, and wolves were fully eradicated by 1940.

Some studies suggest bringing wolves into areas where they’ve been wiped out can make the natural landscape healthier.

Colorado officials say they now need between 30 and 50 wolves over the next three years to successfully reintroduce the species. They’ve made similar requests of other Pacific Northwest states, including Washington, Idaho and Montana. Oregon is the first to donate some of its wolves.

Washington officials, meanwhile, expressed concern about potentially removing wolves from their state.

Wolves are federally protected in western Oregon, but they don’t have the same protections in the eastern part of the state. Colorado officials said they will only relocate wolves from regions where they are not protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The Northwest News Network contributed to this report.
Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

April Ehrlich began freelancing for Jefferson Public Radio in the fall of 2016, and then officially joined the team as its Morning Edition Host and a Jefferson Exchange producer in August 2017.