A wolf that wandered from Montana and died in Colorado earlier this year met its end on a hillside about 24 miles north of Rifle, according to government documents obtained by an environmental organization.
Federal wildlife law enforcement officers continue to investigate the death of a Montana wolf that wandered from Montana and died in Colorado, nearly after a year after the wolf’s carcass was collected, raising speculation that the wolf was killed by a human.
“It’s a good question, but I’m not going to answer it,” says George Morrison, Colorado senior wildlife agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Morrison confirmed the examination of the body, called a necropsy, had been completed, but he said the results would be closed to the public until agents complete their investigation.
“It could be two weeks or as long as a year,” he says. “It’s important to us not to impede the investigation.”
Wildlife officials have refused to divulge specifics about the wolf’s condition or its final whereabouts. But Rob Edward, carnivore recovery director for WildEarth Guardians, said he discovered its final location through an open-records request seeking information about wolves in Colorado. The documents showed the last location of the wolf to be about 24 miles north of the Western Slope town of Rifle, less than two miles west of Highway 13.
“I have believed for the last couple of months that they definitely have a law enforcement angle on this,” Edward said. “Otherwise they would tell you that it died of natural causes.”
Intentionally killing a wolf in Colorado would be a violation of the Endangered Species Act and state statutes that protect endangered species.
Edward described the site as “within rifle distance of a road.” Maps show the location to be what appears to be a scrub-covered hillside in an area known as No Name Ridge, apparently on Bureau of Land Management land just north of a dirt road called Thirteenmile Road.
“That’s the way the wolves from the Northern Rockies are going to come,” Edward said. “What we have to work on is making those lands safer.”
Known as wolf 341F, the 18-month-old female made headlines for making a 1,000-mile journey from the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park to Colorado. Biologists tracked her movements using a GPS unit in a collar fitted to her neck.
Researchers said she was a member of the Mill Creek pack and wandered from the pack’s location between towns of Gardiner and Livingston, Mont., in search of a mate.
She left her pack in September 2008 and took a meandering path through Wyoming, Idaho and Utah to Eagle County. She crossed back into Wyoming, then back into western Colorado where her collar showed she stopped moving. Biologists responded and gathered her carcass to perform a necropsy.
Native wolf populations in Colorado were wiped out by the late 1930s. The last record of a native wolf killed in Colorado was in 1943. In June 2004, a radio-collared wolf from Yellowstone was found killed by a passing motorist on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs. In 2007, video footage captured an apparent wolf near Walden.
Officials say among Northern Rockies wolves, 26 out of every 100 wolves are killed, almost all of them shot by animal control officers or poachers. Among lone-dispersing wolves like this one, most are hit by cars or illegally killed.
State law does not call for wolf reintroduction, but it does protect wolves that wander into Colorado.
For wolf reintroduction advocates, this wolf’s death highlights a need for more protections.
“They’re not going to come down here and repopulate the area on their own,” Edward said, “especially if they meet that kind of fate.”