Frequently Asked Questions: Wolves in Colorado and their impact on hunting

A controversial initiative on Colorado's November ballot proposes to reintroduce wolves to the state. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

When was the last time there were resident wolves in Colorado?

Gray wolves historically inhabited most of Colorado, but were extirpated. The last known resident wolves in Colorado were in the 1940s until the most recent sighting of a group of wolves in northwest Colorado in 2020.

Has Colorado Parks and Wildlife had prior reports of wolves in Colorado?

Yes, as well as evidence of occasional dispersers. We typically field around 100 sightings per year. However, wolf reports are typically not considered reliable without strong supporting evidence.

Are there currently wolves that CPW knows about in the state?

Yes. In the summer of 2019, an individual male wolf from the Snake River Pack in Wyoming was located in Jackson County. In January 2020 and again in March 2020, CPW confirmed the presence of at least six wolves in northern Moffat County.

Where do most wolves that disperse into Colorado originate?

Most dispersal into Colorado is believed to have originated from the Greater Yellowstone Area, which is part of the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population. However, it is often difficult to determine a dispersing animal’s specific point of origin with certainty as only a small portion of the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population is marked or fitted with telemetry collars.

Can you provide a list of all recent sightings in Colorado?

  • June 7, 2004, near Idaho Springs: female wolf found dead on the side of I-70
  • Feb 16, 2007, North Park, unknown black wolf video by DOW staff
  • Feb 2009, North of Rifle, female wolf from Montana Mill Creek pack presumed poisoned
  • April 2015, North Park, male wolf from Wyoming was spotted on trail cam
  • April 29, 2015, Kremmling, male wolf shot by coyote hunter
  • Nov. 12, 2018, Divide, captive Mexican gray wolf escaped and was recaptured
  • July 8, 2019, North Park, male from Wyoming Snake River pack photographed
  • January 6, 2020, Moffat County, six wolves confirmed, scavenged elk carcass, DNA confirm
  • March 3, 2020, Moffat County, six wolves (likely same as January reports) confirmed by CPW

How are wolf populations monitored and confirmed?

Collared animals, cameras, howling surveys and genetic sampling among other techniques.

How can people identify wolves?

Wolves are bigger, stockier and have a longer tail than other canids. Despite their name, gray wolves may be white, tawny gray, black, or any combination of those colors. Approximately half of any gray wolf population actually is gray.

Adult male gray wolves typically weigh between 90 and 110 pounds, and may exceed 5 feet in length from nose to tail tip. Adult females typically weigh between 80 and 90 pounds and can be 5 feet long. Young wolves may resemble coyotes or some larger domestic dogs. However, wolves can be distinguished from most coyotes and dogs by their longer legs, larger feet, wider head and snout, shorter ears, narrow body, and straight tail.

Dog and coyote paw prints can be mistaken for wolf tracks. Adult wolf prints are larger than dog and coyote prints. An average-sized wolf makes a track about 5 inches long (without claws) and 3 to 4.5 inches wide. Coyotes are considerably smaller and narrower.

What defines a wolf pack?

The wolf pack is an extended family unit that includes a dominant male and female. In each pack, there is usually only one breeding pair, preventing subordinate adults from mating by physically harassing them. Thus, most packs produce only one litter of four to six pups each year. A pack typically includes the breeding pair, the young wolves born that year, perhaps last year’s young, and sometimes a few older wolves.

Are wolves a threat to humans?

Aggressive behavior from wild wolves towards humans is rare. Mark McNay of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game compiled information about documented wolf-human encounters in “A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada,” which was published in 2002. There are 59,000 to 70,000 gray wolves in Alaska and Canada, and since 1970 there were 16 cases of non-rabid wolves biting people. Six of those cases were severe. Since that report was written, wolves killed a man in Saskatchewan, Canada in 2005. In 2010, a woman jogging outside a remote village in Alaska was killed by wolves. In both instances, habituation to humans was a key factor in the deaths.

Generally, wild wolves are shy of people and avoid contact with them whenever possible. However, any wild animal can be dangerous if cornered, injured or sick, or has become habituated to people through activities such as artificial feeding. People should avoid actions that encourage wolves to spend time near people or become dependent on them for food.

Although the wolf remains listed as endangered, the Endangered Species Act allows for the protection of human safety if there is an immediate threat from any endangered or threatened species. If someone is in a situation where they feel they or someone else is in immediate danger from a wolf, they can kill the wolf. However, these situations are extremely rare and would be thoroughly investigated.

Do wolves eat pets?  What about backyard farm animals, like alpacas and chickens?

They may kill pets and other farm animals such as alpacas and chickens. In general, techniques used to reduce depredation risk on private property from other predators may also be effective at minimizing risk associated with possible wolf depredations.

Can landowners kill a wolf that is depredating livestock?

No. All wolf management must be done in accordance with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules and regulations.

Who will pay for landowner losses from wolf depredation?

CPW does not have the authority to compensate landowners for livestock losses caused by wolves. Currently, there is not a federal source of funds to compensate landowners for depredation losses in Colorado. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, it may be possible to implement the U.S. Department of Agriculture Livestock Indemnity Program in the future.

Who will be responsible for responding to wolf issues and how will the costs be covered?

The USFWS has the primary authority and responsibility to respond to concerns about damage and public safety. Should the wolf be delisted, a source of state funds would have to be identified.

Will CPW respond to wolf-human conflicts, or just the federal government?

Wolves are a federally endangered species under the jurisdiction of the USFWS, but CPW will assist our federal partners with conflicts in Colorado.

How will wolves impact Colorado’s deer, elk and moose populations?

Wolves consume approximately 7-10 pounds of meat per day on average. In some other areas where wolves exist at a sustainable population level, there have been impacts to ungulate populations. Elk, deer and occasionally moose are primary prey species for wolves. It is impossible to predict precisely how wolves would impact Colorado ungulate populations on either a local, regional or statewide scale. Mule deer populations in portions of western Colorado have declined significantly, causing concerns. In response, CPW worked with stakeholders to develop the West Slope Mule Deer strategy (available at

The statewide elk population is stable; the 2018 estimate is 287,000. CPW has intentionally reduced elk populations to achieve population objectives set for each herd. Currently, 22 of 42 (52 percent) elk herds are still above their current population objective ranges.

From Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks:


“How much, where, and how wolves impact prey varies through space and time. Wolves, like mountain lions, coyotes and bears, eat deer, elk, moose, and other game animals. Research in Montana and elsewhere has shown that predation may influence deer, elk and moose populations through changes in the survival of young and adult animals or a combination of both.

In Montana, elk numbers in some areas have declined, due in part to wolf predation. Yet in other areas where wolves and elk interact, elk numbers are stable or increasing. Habitat, weather patterns, human hunting, the presence of other large predators in the same area and the presence of livestock seasonally or year-round are important factors, too. Wolf predation by itself does not initiate declines in prey populations, but it can exacerbate declines or lengthen periods of prey population rebounds.

Research in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere has shown that elk use habitats differently since wolves have returned. One study showed that when wolves are in the local area, elk spend less time in open areas and more time in forested areas. However, extrapolation of this potential effect to broad landscapes should not be made. Hunters may need to adjust their strategies in areas where wolves exist.”

Will wolves impact chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Colorado?

The geographic distributions of wolves and chronic wasting disease in the United States have overlapped little until fairly recently, so this interaction has not been sufficiently studied. It is not possible to say with certainty the extent to which wolves will or will not reduce the prevalence of CWD in specific areas of Colorado. Predictions would be speculative and based on very little actual data. However, we do believe that it is not feasible for CWD to be completely eliminated from Colorado.

Once wolves become established in Colorado, will they be hunted?

Not while they are on the federal or the state endangered species list. If wolves have established a population greater than yet-to-be-determined thresholds, population management options will be evaluated at that time.


READ MORE: Wolves at the door: November ballot proposal of high interest to Colorado hunters