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Gray wolves reintroduced to Colorado 80 years after they were eradicated in the state

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Eight decades after they were eradicated, an ambitious plan to bring wolves back to Colorado has paws on the ground. To kick off an effort to restore biodiversity, a few gray wolves were released yesterday. Colorado Public Radio's Sam Brasch was there.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRONE TAKING OFF)

SAM BRASCH, BYLINE: About 45 invited guests pack into a small mountain clearing, a pair of metal crates sits on a patch of grass. Each one holds a wolf captured in Eastern Oregon a day earlier. There's a moment of quiet as a drone films, and then...

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL DOORS OPENING)

BRASCH: ...A wildlife officer springs each door open with a bungee cord. One wolf sprints into a stand of aspens and spruces. A second gray wolf pauses to look back at the crowd, then disappears.

JARED POLIS: Everybody here is just in reverent awe.

BRASCH: Colorado Governor Jared Polis stood by as the state released five wolves in total, watching them bound into their new habitat about two hours northwest of Denver.

POLIS: Wolves are an iconic and legendary animal, and to know that they're part of the Colorado landscape is really a new chapter.

BRASCH: By releasing Wolves, Colorado followed through on a ballot initiative narrowly approved by voters more than three years ago. Joanna Lambert is a biologist who fought for that initiative. By restoring an apex predator eradicated in the 1940s, she says the state can help the whole ecosystem.

JOANNA LAMBERT: This is a moment of rewilding - right? - of doing something to stave off the biodiversity extinction crisis that we're living in.

BRASCH: Local ranchers have filed lawsuits to stop further releases. Colorado has fought off those challenges, but it's still listening to their concerns, says Dan Gibbs, who leads the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. That's why the state will compensate ranchers who lose livestock to wolves more than other states.

DAN GIBBS: Will that take away and alleviate the concerns that they have? No. But my hope and my philosophy is really that we can learn to live with wolves and not against wolves.

BRASCH: And with plans to release up to 50 wolves in the next five years, Colorado isn't waiting to prove it can succeed.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Brasch in Grand County, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT SAXTON'S "SEABIRD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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