New images of the wolves that have been living around Moffat County show two animals rolling and playing, while audio recordings indicate the presence of at least four wolves.
The photos and audio recordings were captured by Defenders of Wildlife, which is studying the pack’s behavior. Karin Vardaman, manager of the Working Circle, an initiative led by Defenders of Wildlife that focuses on reducing conflict between wolves and ranchers, said understanding the pack and the local environment will help with that work.
“We spent quite a bit of time out there exploring the Forest Service roads, county roads, hiking,” Vardaman said. “We get a feel for everything from the topography to movement of prey, movement of other predators — they tend to follow patterns.”
She said they talked to ranchers and workers in the area about any experiences they’ve had with the wolves. Although she said she is unaware of any conflicts so far, talking with local people helped them when they began studying the pack.
“For the Moffattwolves, getting an understanding of how they use the landscape is really important to understand,” Vardaman said. “Could there be future conflict with livestock or any other sort of conflict? That’s just understanding their behavior in general.”
Vardaman said they’ve heard howling, seen footprints and now these photos are the latest evidence that the first wolf pack to reside in Colorado in 75 years is still here. They also appeared to be in a playful mood, tumbling and rolling in the mud.
There are several game cameras in the area set up by Defenders of Wildlife in the hope of photographing the wolves. Vardaman said they look at footprints and other evidence to place the cameras strategically. They may put them along a National Forest Service Road or near a water source. She said they focus on public land and do not use private land without permission.
“We try to be strategic in setting them up where we think they are returning to regularly or, for example, wolves like to follow roads,” Vardaman said. “They like to travel on the easiest path.”
Normally, the game cameras are set up to record video, as that makes counting the animals easier, Vardaman said. However, with winter arriving soon, they will not be able to check them as often and so switched to still photos.
Ultimately these efforts are intended to make it easier for ranchers to live in proximity to a wolf pack by giving them strategies to protect their livestock, Vardaman said. Because of the abundant wildlife in the area, she said this pack appears to have plenty of prey and no reason to go after livestock. However, she said they want to develop relationships with the local ranchers in the event that there is predation.
“Obviously I’m a wolf person,” Vardaman said. “I love wolves, but I’m also very pro-ranch. So I really feel strongly and advocate the need to support ranchers because they have a lot of challenges already.”
Colorado will only see more wolves in the coming years as it moves forward with the wolf reintroduction plan approved by Colorado voters in November. Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently reminded Coloradoans that wolves are still listed as an endangered species in the state and will remain federally listed until January. As such, it is illegal to kill a wolf in Colorado.
Vardaman said she thought it would be unhelpful to either side to destroy the wolf pack. She said there are ways ranchers and wolves can coexist successfully.
“My focus is working with livestock producers to implement long-term and sustainable strategies that help support their operation even beyond the wolves,” Vardaman said. “So that’s my goal in gaining this information.”