Colville Tribes agree to provide wolves for Colorado reintroduction

Jan. 24—Wolves from tribal land in Eastern Washington will be moved to Colorado to aid in reintroduction efforts next year under an agreement announced this week.

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have agreed to be a source for up to 15 wolves for Colorado's gray wolf reintroduction efforts, according to a news release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Under the plan, the wolves would be captured between December and March 2025 and relocated to Colorado.

Jarred-Michael Erickson, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said in the release that tribes are happy to partner with Colorado's wildlife agency on the program.

"The Colville people strongly believe in preserving our environment, including its fish and animals," Erickson said. "We are thrilled that our restoration efforts on our own lands have progressed far enough that we can share some of these magnificent creatures with the citizens of Colorado."

Colorado voters approved the reintroduction of wolves to the state by a narrow margin in 2020. The state's plan calls for bringing in 10 to 15 wolves per capture season to bring the total to 30 to 50 wolves.

In December, the reintroduction began with 10 wolves captured in Oregon being released in the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. The release of the canine predators followed a judge's denial of a cattle industry request to delay the reintroduction, according to the Associated Press.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife doesn't plan to release more wolves this winter. During the capture season next year, tribal representatives on the Colville Reservation will help Colorado wildlife officials by offering guidance on the packs to target, avoiding those with chronic livestock conflict problems, according to the release.

Jeff Davis, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said in the release that officials are grateful that the tribes are "working with our agency on this critical next step in reintroducing gray wolves in the state."

The introduction of the 10 wolves from Oregon last month brings Colorado's total of known wolves to 12, including two individuals that were collared after wandering into the state from elsewhere.

On Wednesday, officials released a map that showed the watersheds the wolves have been wandering. So far, the agency said, all wolf activity has remained north of Interstate 70.

Colorado's reintroduction efforts come after decades of wolves being largely absent from the state. Other than a handful that have dispersed from other populations, the last known resident wolves were seen in the 1940s, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Washington has seen growing numbers of wolves since 2008, around the time people started seeing the canine predators in the eastern part of the state. Since then, the population has dispersed widely.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's 2022 population count estimated there are at least 216 wolves in the state across 37 packs.

Staci Lehman, a WDFW spokesperson, said the 2022 count recorded five packs that primarily live on the Colville Reservation, which covers 1.4 million acres between the Okanogan and Columbia rivers.

Each pack had a successful breeding pair, and accounted for a minimum of 29 wolves combined.

Lehman said it's unclear how the translocation would affect the state's wolf population, but noted that the population has grown by an average of 23% per year since 2008.

Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, said in a statement that the agreement is a positive development in wolf conservation.

"We see it as good news that Washington has enough wolves already, just 15 years after the reappearance here, to make this possible," Friedman said. "We hope the Colville wolves have a bright future in their new home, and that Colorado's wolf recovery effort has as much success as Washington's."

Colorado asked the state of Washington to provide wolves for the reintroduction program last spring. At a meeting in June, the Fish and Wildlife Commission's wildlife committee declined, citing an ongoing status review for wolves, but appeared to leave open the possibility that it would consider providing wolves in the future.

Officials in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho also declined to provide wolves for the program.