Colorado hunts for co-existence between people and wolves

Wolves were a part of Colorado's landscape until the mid 1940s, when they were hunted and eliminated.
A gray wolf
Posted at 7:43 PM, Jun 07, 2024

At the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center near the town of Divide, CEO and founder Darlene Kobobel points out her furry permanent residents.

"This here is Nanook. That's Raven," she says, approaching an enclosure with two gray wolves.

Kobobel started her work in 1993, working with wolf-dog hybrid breeds.

"I got into this by rescuing a wolf dog from a shelter that was going to be euthanized. And she was my inspiration and wanted to be a voice for wolves," Kobobel tells Scripps News.

Kobobel has been using that voice a lot lately, as Colorado begins reintroducing gray wolves into the wild for the first time in eight decades.

"It's super exciting because they're native here, and they and they belong, and they're part of the landscape," Kobobel says.

Wolves were a part of Colorado's landscape until the mid 1940s, when they were hunted and eliminated. In 2020, by a razor-thin margin, voters approved a plan requiring the state to bring wolves back.

Wildlife officials transplanted ten animals from Oregon to Colorado. They were released in December, each fitted with a tracking collar.

It hasn't all gone smoothly. As the wolves are expanding their territory, cattle and sheep ranchers say the predators are frequently hunting valuable livestock.

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In video captured by night vision cameras, wolves can be seen moving among herds of cattle. Colorado wildlife officials have confirmed ten wolf kills this year.

"That's a big income loss in my business," says Tim Ritschard, president of the Middle Park Stockgrowers Association.

Ranchers like Ritschard have asked Colorado Parks and Wildlife to remove, by lethal means if necessary, the wolves causing the most trouble.

"We don't want them, obviously. But if we have to live with them, it's fine. But we should be able to at least protect our animals," Ritschard says. "I think that's the big thing right now is if we can protect our animals and protect our livelihoods, I mean, that's the deal."

Wildlife officials have so-far refused to kill the problem wolves. Kobobel and her staff of wolf educators say there are solutions for keeping cattle and sheep safe — everything from noisemakers to flags that wolves avoid. Recently, the state paid to hire a "ranger rider" to patrol at night in order to scare the predators away.

"We should learn to be able to coexist together. And the thing is, there are ways to coexist together," Kobobel says.

At Kobobel's sanctuary, coexisting is a lesson she hopes can come from the wolves themselves.

"They're not only this beautiful, amazing, incredible animal, but they're part of the ecosystem and part of the balance as an apex predator that belongs," says Kobobel. "I think our mission now is to keep them to survive and thrive and be able to work with people that want to work together."