By Spencer Wilson

WALDEN, Colo. (CBS4)– Colorado Parks and Wildlife responded to Don Gittleson’s ranch the same day CBS4 Mountain Newsroom Reporter Spencer Wilson did to begin their investigation into the cow found dead, presumably by wolves. While they were unable to comment that Wednesday, they were able to respond to a few questions posed as to the situation Colorado finds itself in in regards to the wolf population.

(credit: Don Gittleson via Steamboat Radio)

One of the major takeaways from Colorado Parks and Wildlife is that because these wolves moved into Colorado from a bordering state, they are not really a part of the reintroduction efforts from Proposition 114, although the way wolves can be treated or dealt with pertains to their status as an endangered species. Parks and Wildlife goes on to explain why they are now allowing ranchers to haze wolves, but not kill them.

We’ve included the full exchange below:

How has management of wolves in Colorado changed since the vote? No new wolves placed in Colorado yet, but are there already wolf treatment changes?

Because of the broad awareness and public attention on Proposition 114 and the mandated wolf reintroduction efforts in the state, it’s worth underscoring that these incidents are not related to or a result of wolf reintroduction efforts in Colorado. No wolves have been reintroduced under Proposition 114. The wolves involved in the recent depredation incidents migrated naturally into Colorado.

(credit: CBS)

The CPW Commission had discussed hazing regulations at its November meeting and was scheduled for a final vote on the regs at its January 12 meeting. Because a pack of naturally migrating wolves is known to reside in the state, the decision was made to vote on the hazing regs as emergency regulations so that they would take effect immediately (instead of March 2022) and allow ranchers and livestock owners to immediately begin using hazing mitigation strategies when appropriate. More information is below.

Background on hazing regulations:

The regulations passed by the CPW Commission in its January meeting aim to provide landowners with a wide variety of options and resources to minimize conflict and potential depredation. This regulation change included commonly accepted hazing techniques including fladry (fencing), range riders, guard animals, scare devices,etc.

This regulation also necessarily balances the need to conserve a state endangered species as final gray wolf management plans are in development.

These techniques are only one part of what will become the full and final gray wolf management plan currently in development. The goal of the advisory groups and staff is to continue discussions on additional tools and options as part of the plan being created through Proposition 114.

Specific approved regulation language can be found under #10 at this link: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Commission/2022/January/Item.16a-Ch_W-10_Section_1000.A-Final.pdf

We spoke with a rancher who was having two bad days in a row after his cattle were attacked by a pack of wolves in Walden. I believe it’s true that nobody wants wolves eating livestock from ranchers but were more interested in managing natural prey populations like deer and elk. Is that true? (clarification: it is never the intent for wolves to grow and feed off of livestock, correct? As we introduce more wolves eventually to Colorado, it is not intended to be at the direct expense of the ranchers and their livestock, although it might be a consequence. )

CPW is working closely with the rancher, USDA Wildlife Services and Defenders of Wildlife to strategize and find opportunities to minimize further loss of livestock on this rancher’s property.

On January 12, the CPW Commission passed regulations on hazing for wolves that have naturally migrated into the state, including the pack in Jackson County. CPW will be working closely with this individual ranch as well as other producers to provide resources to minimize the likelihood of conflict or depredation as it works to create a statewide wolf restoration and management program as directed under Proposition 114.

To reiterate, these incidents are not related to or a result of wolf reintroduction efforts in Colorado. It’s also worth noting that the state has an existing depredation reimbursement fund for predation by other species that can be used for wolf depredation, and depredation reimbursement options specifically related to wolf reintroduction are currently being evaluated by both the Technical Working Group and Stakeholder Advisory Group to develop reintroduction plan recommendations. More information on those discussions can be found in the meeting summaries posted here.

Depredation compensation is required by statute, and the final Colorado compensation plan will be part of the overall Gray Wolf planning process. Recent Stakeholder Advisory Group and Technical Working Group meetings have focused on the topic of depredation compensation; meeting summaries are available at https://www.wolfengagementco.org/advisory-groups.

Depredation compensation will not utilize revenues generated by the sale of hunting or

fishing license fees. Compensation will occur via the General Fund, the Species

Conservation Trust Fund, the Colorado Nongame Conservation and Wildlife Restoration Cash Funds, or other sources of funding for non-game species.

If true, what can we do about it? That rancher claims hazing is not a good option and believed being able to kill a few would spare the entire pack being wiped out when they get used to killing livestock. 

Gray Wolves remain a state endangered species, and wolves may not be taken for any reason other than human self-defense. Illegal take of a wolf may result in a combination of penalties, including fines of up to $100,000, a year of jail time, and a lifetime loss of hunting license privileges.

As mentioned above, CPW is working closely with the rancher, USDA Wildlife Services and Defenders of Wildlife to strategize and find opportunities to minimize further loss of livestock on this rancher’s property.

Can you speak to the ecological cost and benefit of more wolves in Colorado? How does that change your job?

Wolves in Colorado will come with both potential benefits and challenges. They will continue to increase the biodiversity of our state, restore an apex predator to the landscape that will assist in restoring natural balances to the ecosystem and potentially recover a state endangered species, and do our part to keep a species from extinction.

Positive impacts may include: an additional tool for managing elk, deer and moose populations to desired management objectives; dispersal of wildlife resulting in habitat improvement due to less pressure on the landscape, especially in riparian areas; a decreased possibility of disease transmission from ungulate overpopulation and concentration; tourism opportunities; and non-monetary values such as existence values and vicarious use.

Challenges may include: depredation and harassment of livestock; herd dogs and guard animals; dispersal of wild ungulates (elk, deer and moose) potentially to private agricultural lands; changes in hunting or viewing opportunities; and declines below management objectives in ungulate populations and/or in ungulate recruitment rates in certain areas of the state.

Wolf populations would need to be established for an extended period before we can evaluate the extent to which they impact populations of prey species in Colorado.

As wolves become more established on the landscape, CPW will adjust its research and employ adaptive management efforts to address these questions.

 

Spencer Wilson