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Wolf Range: Facts & Myths

How do scientific facts about wolf ranges compare to people’s common misperceptions or myths?

 

Myth #1: "Gray wolves aren't native to Colorado and don't live here."

Myth #2: "Gray wolves are native to Colorado and still live in Colorado."

Myth #3: "There is not enough space for wolves in Colorado now."

What do you think is accurate and inaccurate in these statements?  Watch the video and click on the maps to enlarge and examine them.

The historic range of gray wolves in the United States stretched over most of the lower 48 states, including Colorado¹ ² ³ ⁴! That range has been drastically reduced because of habitat loss and actions of people to eliminate wolves in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. What do these two maps tell us about the current available and suitable habitat within the gray wolf’s historic range? Click on the maps to enlarge. Respond to the Points to Ponder by examining the maps. 

References
  1. Gray Wolf Populations in the Conterminous U.S. from The Wildlife Society.
  2. Questions and Answers about Gray Wolves in America from TimberwolfInformation.org
  3. Wolves: Gray Wolf from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
  4. A History of Gray Wolves in the United States from Gray Wolf Conservation.

Points to Ponder

  • Compare the historic and current ranges for gray wolves. Which U.S. states make up wolves’ historic range? Which U.S. states currently have wolves living in them?
  • What does “suitable habitat” mean? Where is suitable habitat in Colorado?
  • How do the historic and current ranges compare to Colorado’s suitable habitat? 
  • Write two captions for the maps to summarize the information illustrated about wolves in Colorado.
  • How do the map data show that this statement is not true "There is not enough space for wolves in Colorado now."
  • Now that you know these facts, consider what may or may not be true about these commonly held misperceptions by responding to these Points to Ponder:
    • "Gray wolves aren't native to Colorado and don't live here."
    • "Gray wolves are native to Colorado and still live in Colorado."
educator note

Parsing Perceptions: Watch the video, and then click on the two maps to enlarge and examine them. Compare the scientific data presented in the maps and video to the three misperceptions using a two-column table or graphic organizer.

Game (could be suggested as an out-of-class activity): Wolf Quest! Live the life of a wild wolf in Yellowstone. http://wolfquest.org

Misconception activity support: Read or provide the below text to your students once they have finished the activity. Show any of the five sources below to help confirm each scientific fact.

These two maps show that the western portion of Colorado Rocky Mountains is suitable habitat for wolves to return to¹. Suitable habitat is determined by prey density, roads and road use, vegetation types, presence or absence of livestock, amount of human development, and the land’s slope and elevation. Given that these factors have been taken into account, we know that Colorado’s Western Slope will easily support wolves. Furthermore, at least 23 million acres in Colorado are public land², and elk and other game animals are at or above target levels, meaning the prey population is large enough to support wolves there³ ⁴ ⁵.

       References 

  1. Wolf Range in North America: Past, Present and Potential from Defenders of Wildlife. 
  2. Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data from Congressional Research Service (2017).
  3. Elk Numbers Across 6 States from goHUNT (2014).
  4. Call of the wild: Should Colorado bring back the wolf? from The Christian Science Monitor (2019).
  5. Crying wolf, or cause for alarm? from Gunnison Country Times (2019).