Wildlife officials say possible wolf sightings picking up in Aspen region
The Glenwood Springs office of Colorado Parks and Wildlife has received five reports of wolf sightings in the region so far this spring and summer.
None of the sightings has been substantiated but the activity indicates people are staying alert as wolf sightings become more common in Colorado’s mountains, said CPW area wildlife manager Matt Yamashita.
The latest report was made this week by a couple visiting from Bethesda, Maryland. Jim and LuAnne Spurrell were hiking along Crater Lake close to dusk Tuesday when they saw what they believe was a wolf. Both of them said it was substantially larger than a coyote. They were not able to get a photograph.
Jim Spurrell talked to a CPW representative Wednesday and filled out a detailed form on wolf sightings that CPW provides online. Yamashita said the report will be routed to the district wildlife manager and, if time permits, he will check the area for scat or paw prints.
Yamashita said the wolf sightings reported this year to the Glenwood Springs office include one at the Eagle-Routt county line, the western side of Lake County, the Vail area and the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
“Even if we can’t substantiate it, that doesn’t mean it’s not a wolf,” Yamashita said.
He said CPW welcomes information turned in by the public because that helps the agency assess what is happening in the backcountry.
It is feasible wolves are venturing into the central mountains, he said. It has been verified that a pack of at least six wolves was living in extreme northwestern Colorado this winter.
A female wolf ventured more than 500 miles from Yellowstone National Park into Colorado in 2004. It was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs.
“They can definitely wander and go through the state undetected,” Yamashita said.
Crater Lake is at 10,076 feet in elevation. That is within habitat range for wolves, especially one that is potentially just passing through, according to Yamashita.
While noting that he wasn’t making an assessment of the Spurrells’ potential sighting, Yamashita said people often confuse large coyotes for wolves. It can be difficult to gauge the size of an animal at a long distance while in the outdoors, he said.
Jim Spurrell said he was confident he and his wife didn’t see a coyote. He is used to seeing them on the East Coast. Those coyotes are larger than ones typically found in the West, he said. Spurrell said he double majors at the University of Tennessee in chemistry and zoology, though he didn’t pursue species identification in his studies.
In addition, he said the animal he saw was considerably larger than his 85-pound German shepherd, which wasn’t on the hike. He couldn’t rule out the animal being a wolf-dog hybrid, though he said it definitely didn’t look domesticated.
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said Forest Service officials have received what have been deemed credible reports of wolves on the north section of the sprawling, 2.3 million acre forest. There have been no previous reports to the Forest Service of a wolf sighting in the national forest around the Roaring Fork Valley.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.