In a new statewide survey of 1,500 likely Colorado voters, weighted to Republicans and Western Colorado voters, nearly two-thirds said they believed that Colorado’s gray wolves should not be trophy hunted or trapped after they are restored to Colorado. The poll comes just as Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begin planning for the restoration of Colorado’s wild wolf population.

According to an Aug. 23-25, 2022 poll, 64% of Colorado voters believe that trophy hunting of wolves should not be allowed, and 62% agree that trapping of wolves should not be allowed. This included majorities across all political affiliations and geographic areas.

In 2020, Colorado voters passed Proposition 114, mandating that Colorado Parks and Wildlife begin restoring wolves as a non-game species—that is, animals who cannot be hunted or trapped for commercial or recreational purposes. Nevertheless, during the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s wolf stakeholder advisory group process, the agency proposed including a trophy hunting season and changing wolves’ status to that of a furbearer (animals who could be trapped), as part of its “Phase 4” planning process.

In other states where wolf trapping is permitted, wolves are typically captured using steel-jawed, leghold traps or strangling cable neck snares. Colorado voters banned public lands trapping in 1996 through a ballot measure. If Colorado officials want to allow the commercial or recreational trapping of wolves once they are restored, lawmakers or voters would first need to change the state constitution.

“Colorado voters have stated emphatically that  they don’t want to see trophy hunters turn wolves into mounted specimens for someone’s living room, and they certainly do not want wolves to die in cruel leghold traps or strangling neck snares just so someone can display a wolf trophy or sell pelts on the global fur market,” said Wendy Keefover, a third generation Colorado resident and senior strategist, Native Carnivore Protection for the Humane Society of the United States. “Wolves have far more value to Coloradoans and our ecosystems when they are alive and thriving.”

Data from the National Park Service and the Greater Yellowstone Wildlife-Related Activity Valuation Study show that wolf-watching ecotourism in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks is a multi-billion-dollar industry that generates thousands of jobs and other tangible benefits to local communities.

"Wolves are incredibly intelligent and social animals, and wolf packs are essentially family units," said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. "Trophy hunting and trapping is not only cruel and senseless, but can disrupt pack dynamics and possibly even destroy wolf packs."

Colorado is credited with having the largest elk population in the world, numbering an estimated 280,000 animals, according to CPW. But chronic wasting disease, an illness that is universally deadly to infected animals has spread throughout the state, significantly affecting populations of elk, mule deer and moose.

“Unlike human hunters, wolves select for the weakest and sickest animals, and thus offer the best opportunity we have to cut chronic wasting disease out of Colorado’s elk herds,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “The track record from the Yellowstone and Idaho wolf reintroductions proves that a healthy wolf population has little if any effect on elk population numbers, and returning wolves to the Colorado mountains offers our best chance to restore populations of elk, mule deer, and moose to health.”

Wolves can also increase  plant and animal diversity in their ecosystems but only when their populations are sufficient in number and well distributed. “By moderating elk populations and their behavior, wolves initiate cascades of positive effects that reverberate across the landscape. These trophic cascades include enhancing biological diversity and even increasing resilience to climate warming,” stated Delia Malone, ecologist and chair of the Wildlife Committee of the Sierra Club’s Colorado chapter. “These important effects can only occur if family groups are intact and not persecuted by trophy hunting and trapping,” she added.

“Numbers don’t lie, and these findings make clear that the people of Colorado want wolves protected. Colorado voters didn’t support restoring wolves so that they might later be trophy hunted and trapped,” said Rob Edward, advisor to the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, and one of the key figures behind the 2020 ballot initiative approved by voters to reintroduce wolves to Colorado.

Trophy hunting is defined as a hunt in which the primary motivation is to kill wildlife for photo opportunities and to obtain and display body parts, including, heads, hides and capes. Trophy hunters kill animals primarily for bragging rights, not primarily for food.