Wolf Update: Eric Odell’s experience helps guide Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) through adoption of gray wolf plan

This is the third part of a series profiling Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff involved in gray wolf reintroduction in Colorado.
Gray wolf
Gray Wolf

Blending policy and science always appealed to Eric Odell. During a 23-year career at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, he’s found himself at that intersection more often than not. That has been especially true since November of 2020.

When Colorado voters passed Proposition 114 to direct Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to develop a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves in the state, CPW quickly leaned on the experience of Odell to initiate and carry out the process to draft the wolf plan that aims to balance not only the biological needs of the species but also the societal impacts its reintroduction will have.

Eric with lynx

Thirty months after voters approved the initiative, the wolf plan was approved by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission on May 3, 2023. It all came after a lengthy process of stakeholder meetings, public outreach and the collective work of many CPW employees, with Odell often at the forefront.

“I always wanted to find a way to make a meaningful, lasting impact,” Odell said. “As luck would have it, I’ve had an incredible opportunity to do so here at CPW over the past two decades working on a very interesting suite of species.

“Whether it is wolves, or Canada lynx or black-footed ferrets, conservation of wildlife species is at the core of what CPW is about. To be able to be part of re-establishing a species to its native habitat and have it persist and to know we made a difference in wildlife populations in Colorado, there’s satisfaction in that.”

The process played on every aspect of what Odell loves most about his job. It required intersecting the social aspect of how people from all backgrounds feel about wolves along with the best available science while aiming to create new policy.

For his work in guiding the wolf restoration plan, Odell was honored with CPW’s Jim Jones Outstanding Employee of the Year award.

CPW honors Eric Odell and Reid DeWalt for their work on the wolf restoration and management planning effort
CPW honors Eric Odell and Reid DeWalt for their work on the wolf restoration and management planning effort. Pictured left to right: Terrestrial Section Manager Brian Dreher, DNR Executive Director Dan Gibbs, Assistant Director of Aquatic, Terrestrial and Natural Resources Reid DeWalt, Wolf Conservation Program Manager Eric Odell, CPW Director Jeff Davis, Parks and Wildlife Commission Chair Carrie Hauser, Species Conservation Unit Supervisor Dave Klute

“Eric has embodied true professionalism in facilitating complex and difficult conversations across diverse interests ranging from wolf advocates, landowners, ranchers, and the general public,” said CPW Terrestrial Section Manager Brian Dreher. “Few people within our agency have been placed on the hot seat for the number of hours that Eric has been, and he does it with a cool, calm and professional demeanor. I’m proud of what we accomplished developing our wolf restoration and management plan.”

Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan

Through the passage of Ballot Initiative 114 in the November 2020 state election, codified at Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-2-105.8, as amended (attached as Appendix A), the voters of Colorado mandated that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (hereafter, Commission) restore the gray wolf (Canis lupus) to the state. This Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan (hereafter Plan) describes how this will be achieved and fulfills the planning components of the statutory requirements of CRS 33-2-105.8.

‘Embraced his role’

Eric prepares to release a black-footed ferret
Eric prepares to release a black-footed ferret into the wild.

Odell began his CPW career in 2000 as a Habitat Biologist and has served as the agency’s Species Conservation Program Manager for the last 17 years. He has been instrumental in the conservation success of swift fox, black-footed ferrets, lesser prairie-chickens and black-tailed prairie dogs during his CPW career. As CPW’s foremost terrestrial non-game carnivore species expert, he also brings vast experience in issues related to river otters, Canada lynx, wolverines and gray and Mexican wolves, serving as Colorado’s point of contact. 

In his position, he has been able to influence policy and program formulation within Colorado and with partners including federal agencies and private organizations as it relates to the enhancement and conservation of threatened and endangered terrestrial wildlife species and their habitats.

“From the very beginning, and even before the passing of Proposition 114, Eric fully embraced his role as the biological lead for wolves in Colorado,” Dreher said. “Eric formed relationships with many experts in wolf management and fostered relationships with other states that will ultimately help implement a successful restoration and management program.”

Planning for species reintroduction to the state is not new to Odell, as he also researched and helped design a draft reintroduction plan for wolverines to Colorado back in 2010, a plan that is being revitalized once more. Note: A stakeholder process for wolverine reintroduction was undertaken in 2010, resulting in an extensive report and plan for how that reintroduction could be accomplished. Recently, the agency has been looking back to determine whether that process, with any necessary updates from the past 12 years, may still be workable for Colorado.

Odell said wolf reintroduction has been different from other programs he and CPW have been part of in the past, specifically because this initiative was driven by a ballot measure passed by voters. But while that makes it unique, he said being able to rely on lessons learned from past wolf reintroduction efforts in the Rocky Mountains has helped with logistics.

“With lynx, we had to learn how to capture and move those animals from source sites to Colorado,” he said. “That involved the logistics of transporting animals across international borders and getting them in good body condition in order to survive once they were released. And nobody has ever done a wolverine reintroduction before. That’s carving entirely new ground – new ground we hope to lead the way in for others.”

‘How the pieces fit together’

Odell grew up in Colorado Springs and is a graduate of Cheyenne Mountain High School. He obtained degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies from Middlebury College in Vermont and also worked in field ecology at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado. Odell would go on to earn a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Biology from Colorado State University in 2000. He joined CPW as a habitat biologist, and he’s been making history ever since.

He never imagined that in 2021 he would place the first GPS collar on a gray wolf in Colorado or that in 2022 he would place the first collar on a wolf born in Colorado. Odell led those efforts when wolves naturally migrated into North Park from neighboring Wyoming.

“Being able to put the first radio collar on a wolf in Colorado, was a day I will never forget,” he said. “For us to find that first den up there, it was just awesome.”

“Since being hired with CPW, I’ve been everywhere in the state and seen the breadth of our many communities and seen how diverse the geography of the state really is. For me, one of the great educations I have received is understanding how the on-the-ground work that CPW does in each area relates to how different each area is. Seeing how all the pieces fit together is really exciting.”

Odell said acknowledging those differences across the state helped him keep multiple perspectives at the forefront while drafting the wolf plan. He hopes to have many of the questions asked about the success of wolves being reintroduced answered within the next decade. 

But no matter what old questions are answered and which new ones arise, Odell said he will look back on this process fondly and will always take great pride in the work.

“This entire process has highlighted diverse viewpoints,” he said. “We are a group of people with very different perspectives and personalities trying to solve challenging situations. But we are all people. I am proud of the respect we have all shown one another and the support our team has received. We’ve developed relationships on a much deeper level, and we have all been strengthened by that.”

Eric Odell addresses questions at Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting
Eric Odell addresses commissioner questions at Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting.

Written by John Livingston. John is the Southwest region public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third part of a series profiling Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff involved in gray wolf reintroduction in Colorado. CPW is proud of the work of its highly-trained experts coordinating reintroduction efforts following the passage of Colorado Proposition 114, now state statute 33-2-105.8, that directed CPW to develop a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves in designated areas in Colorado west of the Continental Divide no later than Dec. 31, 2023.

7 Responses

  1. On a year with winter kill on wildlife so bad, why in the world would you go ahead and reintroduce the wolf? Where is there any commonsense in that. Where is game management? Deer population in Colorado so bad that the whole state is a draw. elk on decline, and the winter kill is horrible on our biggest herds in North America. Someone needs to bring this to the table please. Hunting is already pretty hard with the amount of hunters that come here. Not to mention when the wild game become scarce live stock will be hit next. Is the state going to help the ranchers with his loss. 94 to 97% of our fawn crop is already killed from predation. What are we thinking?

    1. Passing in November 2020, ​​​​​​​​Proposition 114 – now state statute 33-2-105.8 – directed the Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado, using the best scientific data available and hold statewide hearings to acquire information to be considered in developing such plan, including scientific, e​conomic, and social considerations pertaining to such restoration. The statute also directed the Parks and Wildlife ​​Commission to take the steps necessary to begin the restoration of ​​​​​gray wolves in Colorado west of the Continental Divide no later than December 31, 2023. For more information, please visit https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/Wolves-Stay-Informed.aspx

  2. Thanks for all your work on this and other projects, Eric. Colorado is lucky to have you.

    And, by all means, do go ahead and continue reintroducing the wolf. I don’t know about “common” sense, but it does make good sense. 😉

  3. What we are thinking is that the last sustainable wolf pack in CO was deliberately extinguished some 77 years ago. We are thinking “no time like the present,” to right wrongs. We are thinking any further delay to brining the wolf home to CO is unacceptable. We are thinking after 77 years, reintroduction is long overdue. We are thinking that science supports a complete ecosystem, top down. We are thinking December 2023 is the long awaited perfect time to welcome the wolf home. Thank you Eric for all your experience and knowledge in developing a scientific workable plan, respecting the needs of wildlife.

  4. Liberals wreck everything they touch so this should be no exception. How long before they insist on introducing Grizzly Bears too?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


✉ Follow for Updates

Subscribe to Colorado Outdoors Online by Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

More Posts

Translate »