Wildlife division checks wolf sighting | AspenTimes.com

Wildlife division checks wolf sighting

ASPEN ” A Missouri Heights man with 30 years of backcountry experience in the Aspen area says he saw a wolf on the east side of Independence Pass on Labor Day weekend.

Roger Eshelman said he was returning to a hunting camp with his brother-in-law when they spotted an animal roughly 75 yards off the backcountry road they were traveling. Eshelman stopped his vehicle, took out a powerful pair of binoculars and concluded he was looking at a wolf.

Eshelman, 50, said he understands that some people will figure he just spotted a large coyote. As a self-described skilled hunter, he said he knows the difference.

“I’ve got news for ya, I’ve seen thousands of coyotes and this wasn’t a coyote,” he said. “I’m not making a claim. I saw it irrefutably.”

He’s also seen wolves in Yellowstone National Park, Canada and Alaska, so he has some experience to draw comparisons.

The animal he saw stood almost 3 feet high at the shoulders and appeared to weigh more than 100 pounds. It had gray mottled fur that is unique to the wolf. Coyotes are more commonly in the 20- to 40-pound range. Wolves can grow to 6 feet from tip of tail to nose. Coyotes are considerably smaller. Another difference, Eshelman said, was the snout. The animal he saw had a snout significantly longer than a coyote.

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Eshelman said he probably scoped the animal out for about one minute before it realized it was being watched, then slinked closer to the ground and disappeared into the surrounding woods. He figured the only reason he and his brother-in-law even got to look at it was because it was stalking a young buck deer.

Eshelman didn’t want to pinpoint a location for an article because he didn’t want a bunch of people searching for the animal.

He was on a one-week bow-hunting trip at the time. He reported his sighting to the Colorado Division of Wildlife two days after he returned home.

“We have no reason not to believe what the individual told us he thought he saw,” said wildlife division spokesman Randy Hampton. “We certainly think he saw a large canid. Beyond that, it’s a little bit more difficult.”

The sighting was reported to a wildlife officer in the Leadville district. Hampton was uncertain if that officer has visited the area where Eshelman made the sighting.

The wildlife division receives reports of wolves “on a regular basis,” Hampton said. Sometimes they turn out to be wolf-dog hybrids and sometimes it’s just a case of mistaken identity.

“It may very well be a wolf,” Hampton said of this latest report. “You really can’t tell without genetic testing.”

Eshelman hoped his ace in the hole for conclusive proof was a pile of droppings he found. He didn’t witness the animal he spotted unloading, but when he scouted around for tracks he found a pile of droppings that he said was three times as large as any pile of coyote droppings he’s seen. He collected a sample and turned them in to the wildlife division.

Hampton confirmed that a lab tested the droppings for the wildlife division and confirmed they were canine. Beyond that, nothing could be deduced from the sample.

Confirmed sightings of wolves are rare in Colorado, but they have been spotted. Young males are known to venture hundreds of miles, Hampton said. Two sightings stand out in recent years. In one incident, a wolf was spotted by wildlife officers in North Park, north of Walden. The wildlife division believes it wandered down from Wyoming, then wandered back, Hampton said.

In another case, a wolf was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 70 near Vail Pass. That wolf was wearing a collar that had been installed on wolves reintroduced in the Yellowstone area, Hampton said.

Eshelman noted there are unconfirmed reports that wildlife groups have illegally released wolves to Colorado. Reintroduction of the predators is controversial to some people.

Eshelman said he doesn’t belong to any group with a political agenda regarding reintroduction of wolves.

“I’ve got nothing to gain from this,” he said, noting he just wants to build awareness.