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Friday, February 27, 2009

Wolves roaming in Colorado

It feels like winter again. K and I joyfully explored our trails in the crackling cold air with intermittent flurries of snow. The sun soon weakly burned through the clouds to the east.Then, the clouds started to brighten.
And, the clouds parted to expose some blue sky.
Eventually, the east skies radiated blue but the Continental Divide, invisible behind my bike, remained shrouded in misty clouds. The cold air solidified the snowpack, where it still exists, and I floated over the remaining snow on my Fatback. It was a cleansing ride, leaving me feeling pleasantly tired.

After arriving home, I read about a Yellowstone wolf who has traveled more than 1000 miles and now roams the Central Mountains of Colorado. Based on her route, she must have crossed I-70, a huge barrier to wildlife migration. She's wearing a GPS collar but there's a 2 week delay in obtaining her location so it's not possible to know exactly where she is now. That delay will help the wandering wolf to stay hidden but it doesn't help numerous other wolves who live in set home ranges and gravitate to their dens on a daily basis.

I saw wild wolves for the first time last spring when I traveled to the Greater Yellowstone area. We camped for a few days in Wyoming in a secluded valley of National Forest about 50 miles from the park. We saw no other tourists but we did see moose, elk, deer, coyotes, and yes, wolves. I felt lucky to see two wolves as I rode my mountain bike in the valley. They were trotting up a hillside, stopped to look at me, and then disappeared over a ridge. My husband had a similar experience when he was running. Magically, the sound of wolves howling cascaded into our campsite one evening.We'd been warned that both wolves and grizzlies roamed this valley, and that both had wandered through our campsite in recent days, so we kept our dogs leashed. I was especially glad that I hadn't taken K biking with me when I saw leg-hold traps to capture and radio-collar wolves along the side of the trail. No doubt, K would've investigated the rotten meat used as bait and been snared, especially since the traps sat directly adjacent to the trail.

I've tried to follow the news of the wolf pack in that Wyoming valley because a game warden told us that they'd killed livestock in the days preceding our visit. That's a death sentence in Wyoming but I haven't seen any reports of 'predator control' in that valley over the past year. I hope that they haven't been murdered. Wyoming has killed entire packs if any members have taken livestock. You can follow the saga of the Greater Yellowstone wolves at a wildlife news page.

You can probably guess that I'd be ecstatic if a viable population of wolves established itself in Colorado. I think that, with education, Coloradans could peacefully co-exist with wolves. There've been credible reports of wolves in Colorado over last couple of years. However, unless these wolves find each other, the long distance migrants won't stay or flourish.

I love learning about the wildlife that inhabits the west. But, it's also fun to observe the wildlife inhabiting my own living room. Today, in the ongoing saga of the rising social status of our young dog, R, he solicited play from K. Initially, she growled at him in a serious tone. I grabbed my camera to catch a photo of K 'correcting' R. She's corrected R recently when he rambunctiously insists on playing with K despite her subtle signals that she's not interested. Today, however, R heeded her growl and lay down to snooze beside her. To my astonishment, once R had stopped bugging her, K started a play session by pawing him! I've never seen K solicit play from R. It might be a sign of R's slow march toward maturity and K's burgeoning confidence.

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