Lawmaker asks if Utah can return Colorado wolves ‘in the form of a rug’

Colorado began releasing wolves on the Western Slope as part of its wolf reintroduction program in December.

A Utah state representative thinks the state should take a different approach to managing wolves.

Colorado reintroduced 10 wolves on the Western Slope in December. An agreement between Utah and its neighbor directs state agencies to capture and return any wolves that cross the state line.

“Can we do that in the form of a rug?” Rep. Steven Lund asked during an interim meeting of the Legislature on Tuesday.

“I like the way you think,” responded Leann Hunting, animal industry director for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

Since Colorado voters narrowly approved a ballot measure to reintroduce gray wolves in 2020, Colorado’s farmers and ranchers have raised concerns that the animals will attack and kill their livestock, threatening their livelihoods. Ranching Utahns have raised the same concerns.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the state agency overseeing wolf reintroduction, has confirmed 10 “confirmed wolf depredation” incidents since reintroduction, resulting in the deaths of 12 cattle.

Colorado tracks the reintroduced wolves using radio collars and will notify the Utah Division of Wildlife, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if one of the predators roams too far west.

“A Colorado wolf crosses into Utah and our only option is to capture it and return it at our expense,” Hunting said Tuesday.

According to a map released May 22 by Colorado Parks & Wildlife, no wolves have crossed the state line into Utah.

Hunting reported on Tuesday that the department’s trappers have received training for locating, capturing and relocating wolves. She added that since Utah doesn’t have direct access to data on the wolves’ locations, it could be days after a wolf crosses the state line before the agencies are made aware of it.

“There’s no requirement of Colorado to share that information with us, so we’re kind of at their mercy,” she said.

Utah leaders have long been hostile to wolves. The Legislature has granted over $5 million to anti-wolf groups over the last decade. In 2023, lawmakers handed $500,000 to an out-of-state hunting group trying to remove wolves from the endangered species list so they could be lawfully hunted and managed by states, not the federal government.

Though the state has fought the designation, wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act in most of Utah.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife plans to release 30 to 50 wolves in the state over a period of three to five years. The wolves will only be released west of the Continental Divide.