State wildlife officers spotted and caught on video what biologists believe was a wolf in northern Colorado, marking what could be the second time a wolf has wandered into the state since their reintroduction to Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1995.
Wildlife officers saw the black animal Feb. 16 and 17 near Walden, about 140 miles northwest of Denver and videotaped it loping across the snow mounds.
A landowner called the state Division of Wildlife after seeing the animal 10 miles south of the Wyoming-Colorado border.
Biologists and experts who have seen the video say the animal looks and behaves like a wolf.
"There's really no way to be absolutely sure just by looking at an animal, and even genetic testing isn't 100 percent," said Gary Skiba, a DOW biologist and coordinator of a state wolf management task force.
Rob Edward of Sinapu, a Boulder-based group that advocates reintroduction of wolves, said Friday that he's convinced it's a wolf after watching the video.
"I'd bet my entire set of teeth on it," said Edward, a member of the state wolf task force.
The task force was formed after a dead wolf traced to Yellowstone through its radio collar was found along Interstate 70 west of Denver in 2004. Colorado wildlife managers agree it's just a matter of time until more of the animals roam from the Yellowstone area, so they want to have a management plan in place.
"It clearly demonstrates that wolves are going to be able to make that journey down here from time to time," Edward said.
The wolf management panel released its plan last year, but is still meeting. Members are discussing whether wolves should be restored to Colorado, although there's a wide range of difference of opinion about that.
Wolves were wiped out in Colorado by the 1930s after ranchers, government agents and others shot, trapped and poisoned the predator.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released wolves from Canada in Yellowstone and central Idaho in 1995 to try to rebuild the endangered animal's numbers.
Wolves now number in the hundreds in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The federal government wants to turn over management of the animals to the states and remove them from federal protection, but says Wyoming's failure to draft an acceptable plan is holding that up.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal has said the state will stand by its management plan, which would allow wolves to be killed with few restrictions in much of the state.