JACKSON — A former Teton County wolf whose southerly travels beyond the Wyoming border made headlines this past summer is mostly staying put, biologists say.
Colorado seems to attract dispersing wolves every few years, but their presence is usually confirmed under different circumstances.
“The wolves that we know about that are confirmed are ones that are dead,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Eric Odell said. “They’ve basically been hit on the highway or poisoned or unintentionally shot by legal coyote hunters.
“We haven’t had this scenario yet,” Odell said.
In “this” scenario, the Centennial State’s species conservation program manager referred to wolf 1084M, formerly of the Snake River Pack. The animal is living and breathing and can be located anytime courtesy of a tracking collar that would change its signal if the wolf were to die.
In July, the 3-year-old male black wolf made headlines after he was captured on video near North Park, a nearly 9,000-foot-high basin in north-central Colorado. Confirmation of his arrival was announced on Twitter by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who posted a video of the black lobo trotting through the grass and sagebrush.
In the three-plus months since, Colorado biologists have kept tabs on 1084M’s whereabouts when they have had the opportunity, and he has largely stuck to North Park.
“Because he has a VHF [tracking collar] on him, we’ve flown for him periodically,” Odell said. “He’s not really localizing any place, but also not really moving broad distances.”
Odell didn’t want to get into the specifics of where the wolf has been located, but he said there have been “six or seven” occasions when a pilot has picked up the signal, all within 25 to 30 miles of each other.
One year ago, 1084M was located by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department roaming the Thorofare country just south of Yellowstone National Park. Near Hawk’s Rest, he was marked with his pack, listed at six animals early in 2019.
In subsequent months the pack disbanded and 1084M dispersed. His collar was detected on the other side of the Absaroka Range in the South Fork of the Shoshone River drainage last winter, and in February it was marked again near South Pass at the tip of the Wind River Range.
Then, at some point, 1084M took off.
Wolf 1084M’s tracking collar, supplied by Grand Teton National Park, uses a “very high frequency” technology that does not send GPS signals or record past locations, so its exact route to Colorado will remain a mystery. Regardless, the wolf would have had to cross southern Wyoming’s high deserts, which all fall within a “predator zone” where wolves can be killed indiscriminately without rules or limits. Once in Colorado, 1084M became fully protected by the Endangered Species Act and under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wildlife biologists have not tried to locate 1084M on the ground, Odell said. The animal has not been implicated in any livestock deaths. Although its signal has been detected half a dozen times, no biologist has laid eyes on the wolf, and nobody has produced evidence of the wolf to Parks and Wildlife since the video was shared with the state wildlife agency over the summer, he said.
Others with an interest in wolves in Colorado are also trying keep up on the animal, whose species was extirpated from the Southern Rockies in the 1940s. John Murtaugh, the Rockies and Plains representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said he spent time in North Park setting camera traps this past summer and even managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of his black fur in late August.
An activist who is pushing for wolf reintroduction to Colorado, Murtaugh said that, knowing wolf biology, he expects the lone lobo to push back north toward Wyoming sometime soon.
“I’d say over the next month or two, he’s going to get on his way,” Murtaugh said. “You don’t tend to see wolves being alone for long.”