JACKSON — As recently as last fall, the animal that’s making headlines as the first Colorado wolf in four years was wandering one of the most remote and wild landscapes left in the Lower 48 states.
It was the closing days of October when a pilot contracted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department pinged 1084M with his Snake River Pack mates in the willow complex not far from Hawk’s Rest, a craggy mountain overlooking the Upper Yellowstone River that’s famous for its location — as far as one can get from a road in the Lower 48.
The 3-year-old black male lobo with a still-functional tracking collar then headed east over the vast, rugged Absaroka Range, entering the winter in the South Fork of the Shoshone River drainage.
“Once he left the South Fork territory, we didn’t track him at all,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department wolf biologist Ken Mills said. “We had him there (at South Pass) in the middle of February, and then he was gone.”
The Snake River Pack, likewise, disbanded, though Wyoming biologists suspect that some of its members and bloodlines live on in the Greybull Pack. The former pack got its name from a home range that extended from the Snake River headwaters into the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, though the pack shifted well to the east toward Cody in recent years.
After 1084M departed the Wind River Range’s southernmost tip sometime after February, its travels are less clear. The tracking collar on the young male, supplied and fitted by Grand Teton National Park in 2017, is a “very-high frequency” model that does not send GPS signals or record past locations.
Wolf 1084M’s next confirmed location was in northern Colorado’s Jackson County, a rural area that’s hugged between Rocky Mountain National Park and the Front Range on the east and the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest on the west. In order to get there, it would have had to have traversed south-central Wyoming’s high desert and lower-elevation mountains, running the gauntlet through the wolf “predator zone,” where it could have been shot on sight without a hunting permit.
Once it hit the state border, wolf 1084M became protected by the Endangered Species Act, and willfully killing the animal would be a criminal act.
The wolf’s appearance in the Centennial State comes at a time when a debate rages about reintroducing the native large carnivores to the Southern Rockies, where market hunting, trapping and government programs exterminated the species in the early 20th century. Wildlife activists in Colorado are attempting to put reintroduction to a vote, and are organizing a ballot initiative.
“This is just like a wolf, to show up at the most pivotal time,” Mills said. “Wolves are dynamic. It’s just who they are. It’s not like (1084M) has any clue, but the way that wolves are, this is just how it goes.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials did not respond to the Jackson Hole Daily’s requests for an interview, but officials at that agency have told other media outlets that they don’t intend to actively track 1084M’s movements around the landscape. A video of the black lobo on the move in Jackson County has made a splash, and it was a Twitter post from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis that included the clip that broke the news.
Wolves haven’t roamed Colorado since the mid-1940s. This past weekend, a private citizen captured a wolf on video in Jackson County in northern Colorado. COParksWildlife officials are working to verify the sighting as well as another in Grand County.
Since hunting large ungulates is a challenge without pack mates, Mills surmises that 1084M is getting by on smaller game. Based on the video, he said, the 3-year-old looks “pretty thin.”
“I don’t think he looks unhealthy,” Mills said. “He’s not going to be a big, robust, thick wolf anyway, because those don’t exist in the summer. They barely exist in the winter. Summer is lean.”
Big detours outside existing but fast-expanding wolf range in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest happen sporadically, including wolves traveling from Wyoming into Colorado.
“We had a wolf that went the same distance,” Mills said, “and ended up in almost the same spot in 2014.”
A female Wyoming wolf in 2018 trotted south all the way to the Grand Canyon, before being shot by a coyote hunter in Utah. Mills, and many others, will be keeping an eye on what’s in store with 1084M.
“It’s going to be really fascinating to see where he ends up,” he said.