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Biologists check report of wolf pack in Colorado

Feb. 8, 2010 at 3:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 7, 2010 at 8:08 p.m.


DENVER (AP) — Biologists working with the owners of a western Colorado ranch are trying to determine if wolves have settled there.

Biologists consulting for the High Lonesome Ranch north of DeBeque, about 200 miles west of Denver, said they have seen signs of wolves. They have sent animal droppings for DNA tests to the University of California-Los Angeles.

Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said Monday that state officials are talking to owners of the High Lonesome Ranch, which offers hunting and fishing excursions, about the reports of wolves.

There have been reports for 10 years of wolves taking up residence in western Colorado, but no evidence, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Ed Bangs, head of the Northern Rockies wolf restoration program.

Bangs said state and federal wildlife officials recently checked, but couldn't verify, reports of four or five wolves together in western Colorado.

"We take observations at face value," Bangs said. "We've got a system that will figure out for sure" if wolves are in the area.

Trapping and poisoning wiped out wolves in Colorado by the 1930s.

At least two wolves from the Yellowstone National Park area have wandered hundreds of miles into Colorado since 2004. One of the wolves was found dead along Interstate 70 west of Denver. The other, which was radio-collared, died in northwest Colorado last year; federal officials are investigating.

Wendy Keefover-Ring of WildEarth Guardians said environmentalists are "cautiously celebrating" reports of wolves on the ranch.

"It's not that unfeasible for wolves to walk down from Montana or Yellowstone," Keefover-Ring said. "You just need two wolves to breed."

Michael Soule, a founder of the Society for Conservation Biology, said he and other biologists are certain wolves are on the High Lonesome Ranch, which is roughly 1 million acres. He said Cristina Eisenberg, a biologist conducting studies on the ranch, has reported seeing at least one of the animals.

Samples of scat collected on the ranch raise the possibility that there were wolf pups, said Soule, a founder of the Wildlands Network, which advocates conserving large tracts of land to provide wildlife corridors.

WildEarth Guardians and other groups have pushed for restoring wolves to Colorado. They have called for the kind of program that released wolves in Yellowstone and central Idaho in the mid-1990s to restore the predator.

"It's been impossible to get politicians to do anything," Keefover-Ring said.

Environmental groups have advocated releasing wolves in Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado. The National Park Service rejected that plan as a way to reduce the elk herd that is overgrazing the park and instead is using sharpshooters to help cut the number of elk.

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