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Colorado Parks and Wildlife placed GPS collars on two wolves in North Park on Feb. 2, 2023. Male wolf 2101 has a gray coat and is in the foreground on the right. Male wolf 2301, believed to be the offspring of the gray colored wolf, has a black coat and is in the background on the left. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife photo)

Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Thursday captured and placed GPS collars on two wolves in North Park, making them the only GPS-tracked specimens in the state.

Male wolves 2101 and 2301 were tranquilized, inspected for health issues and fitted with collars before being released into the wild. Wolf 2101 was a recapture. The animal was collared two years ago, but the device had since failed. Wolf 2301, likely 2101’s pup, was a first-time capture. 

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CPW is monitoring a pack of wolves with a known presence in North Park, but these two males are the only wolves with working collars in Colorado, CPW spokesperson Travis Duncan said. 

Wolf-monitoring efforts in Colorado have relied on other measures like camera traps, scat and track analysis, or flyovers, he said. Winter provides the best opportunity for biologists to capture wolves, Duncan said, because snow on the ground slows down the animals, helps helicopters see them more clearly, and leaves trackable pawprints.

The collars fitted to wolves 2101 and 2301 do not provide CPW with their location in real time, Duncan said. The data is collected by satellites and sent to CPW researchers every few days. Still, it provides valuable insight into wolf movement and activity, especially ahead of the planned reintroduction of the species next year.

In November 2020, Colorado voters narrowly approved reintroducing gray wolves, which had been absent from the ecosystem since the 1940s. Beginning in 2024, biologists expect to move 30 to 50 wolves into territory west of the Continental Divide over 3 to 5 years. The data from wolves 2101 and 2301 won’t influence the reintroduction plan, but it will still be useful, Duncan said.

“Collar data is unlikely to inform release locations, but may instead give us behavioral data that may help us understand the future behaviors of wolves,” Duncan said.

The gray wolf reintroduction remains highly controversial for Coloradans due to its potential impact on the livestock industry. Last winter, a pack, including 2101, migrated over the border from Wyoming into North Park and started attacking local ranch animals. Ranchers are advocating for more robust financial compensation and support for livestock owners who could be affected by the draft plan.

The CPW Commission is holding three more public comment sessions before the plan is finalized and approved May 3 and 4.