Colorado’s native mammals, like other wildlife species, are the property of the state of Colorado. By law, management of wildlife is entrusted to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, whose task is to protect, preserve, enhance and manage wildlife for the use, benefit and enjoyment of the people of Colorado and visitors to the state.
For purposes of planning and management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has divided Coloradan mammals into several categories. Big game species include deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, bear and mountain lion. Small game species include some species (rabbits, tree squirrels) that are commonly hunted for food as well as a number of species that sometimes become agricultural pests (prairie dogs, some ground squirrels, pocket gophers) and might be partially controlled by sport-hunting. Furbearers include mink, pine marten, badger, red fox, striped skunk, beaver, muskrat, coyote, badger and raccoon. The category "nongame wildlife" includes bats, insectivores, the armadillo, and most of the rodents. These are animals that are not pursued by humans for food, fur, or sport, and mostly they persist in the diverse ecosystems of the state without direct management.
Five mammalian species are classified by the state of Colorado as endangered: the gray wolf, grizzly bear, black-footed ferret, wolverine and lynx. Grizzly bear no longer occur in Colorado. The gray wolf is not thought to be a resident of the state, but sightings have been reported near the Wyoming border, including a probable wolf sighting video taken in 2007. There has been one documented wolf killed in Colorado – a collared wolf from Yellowstone was killed on I-70 near Idaho Springs in 2004. Black-footed ferrets were extirpated in the state. Reintroduction efforts began in 2001 and a small breeding population has been established in Northwest Colorado. Occasional sightings of wolverines are reported across the state. Researchers from the Greater Yellowstone Wolverine program say they have confirmed the first wolverine in Colorado in 90 years. A male wolverine, tracked via GPS-satellite collar, was confirmed in the north-central part of Colorado in early June, 2009. Viable populations of lynx were believed to have been extirpated in the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife began a reintroduction program in 1997 with the first animals released in 1999. As of March 2008, a total of 218 lynx were released from 1999 through 2006 and over 126 kittens have been documented born from these animals from 2003-2009.
Note that all of the designated endangered species of mammals are carnivores. Several species are large and all of them are fairly easy to monitor, at least in comparison with some of the state’s smaller mammals.
One can only wonder how many of the more obscure species – those that are difficult to observe, track or identify – might also be endangered. What about the fringed myotis and the spotted bat? And who will speak for the olive-backed pocket mouse? Their habitats have been disturbed by the spread of human-dominated landscapes. They may never have been abundant; their status is poorly understood. Perhaps they are endangered, too. Would their extinction diminish our lives? Many thoughtful people believe so, because they value the intact, functioning ecosystems of which these obscure but intriguing native mammals are a part.