Two years ago, Colorado voters approved the reinstatement of the gray wolf and narrowly passed Proposition 114. The proposal, which was popular along the Front Range and received much less support in rural areas, calls for the state to reintroduce the animals by the end of 2023. However, the state is still working out the details of how this reintroduction will take place.
Meanwhile, Wolves may have made a comeback of their own. In the summer of 2021, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed that the state’s first wolf litter since the 1940s had been found in North Park, possibly the descendants of wolves that came from Wyoming. And in December 2021, Parks and Wildlife confirmed that a dead calf in Jackson County had injuries consistent with wolf predation.
At a two-day meeting of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission last week, CPW officials discussed an investigation into another possible case of wolf extermination in Meeker, in which many calves had mysteriously died. The CPW found the evidence inconclusive, they said.
They have been far clearer on the date when they will finally submit the draft state wolf resettlement plan to the Commission: December 9th.
In the last two years, circumstances have necessitated some changes to the plan. In February, for example, wolves were put back on the national list of endangered species. Although wolves have been protected as an endangered species in Colorado since 1974, this brought the US Fish and Wildlife Standards into play.
In July, fourteen conservation organizations, including WildEarth Guardians, announced their own plan to reintroduce wolves to the state, saying the Colorado Parks and Wildlife process had focused too much on the negative impacts of wolves and advocacy groups opposing their reintroduction , and not enough on scientific evidence about the best way forward for the state’s future wolf population.
To ensure that many voices are represented in the final wolf reintroduction plan, Parks and Wildlife has assembled a technical working group of reintroduction and management experts, as well as a stakeholder advisory group made up of people from different geographic areas that may be affected by wolf reintroduction. But according to the conservation organizations that signed the alternative plan, these two CPW groups “have raised the voices of ranchers, outfitters, trappers and hunters to others toward a plan that will likely limit the opportunities for wolves in Colorado.” Landscape.”
Ranchers, outfitters and hunters see things differently: During the public comment period on November 17, many of them expressed their concerns about the introduction of wolves and called for more trust-building between CPW and their communities.
“The relationship between the agency and the landowners is critical to the success of this introduction,” said Janie VanWinkle, past president and current board member of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “This isn’t the first endangered species the agency and producers have worked together to achieve a successful introduction in Colorado.”
VanWinkle described how the CCA and CPW worked together to help bring back the black-footed ferret. During that process, she said, the agency gained the trust of agricultural Colorado — but she warned that trust could erode with the reintroduction of wolves. “I call on the Commission to ensure that people on the ground have the tools and information to act quickly and decisively,” she said.
Those tools should include the ability to kill wolves that disturb their livestock and access to tracking information on at least one wolf in each pack, she suggested.
Both working groups of the CPW have come up with official final recommendations for the plan, including instructions on how wolves should be bullied to teach them to stay away from cattle, how the CPW should compensate ranchers for the loss of cattle, whether wolves should be hunted, and how to deal with the effects wolves might have on other animals that people are allowed to hunt in the state.
While wolf advocates have suggested the animals can be bullied in non-lethal ways, even the conservation groups’ plan would allow wolves to be killed if they actively attack livestock. However, not at first. This plan calls for a protection period before resettlement begins, which ranchers oppose.
Because of this, ranchers want the state to secure a 10(j) plan under the Endangered Species Act with fish and wildlife before putting wolves on the ground. The CPW has already required Fish and Wildlife to designate wolves as a Section 10(j) experimental population, allowing for weaker protection of endangered species during the reintroduction process.
“All introductions of wolves in the United States have been done under 10(j)s,” said Reid DeWalt, CPW associate director for aquatic, terrestrial and natural resources, “it’s critical for us to have that.”
The CPW meets regularly with Fish and Wildlife; a draft environmental impact statement is under review and a draft 10(j) plan is in progress. This draft will receive public comment and consultation in January or February, with the aim of completing it by fall 2023 – giving the CPW time to adjust and implement its final resettlement plan before the end of the year.
Jeff Comstock, a staffer with the Moffat County Commissioners, told the commission he was concerned the state would assume a 10(j) would definitely happen before wolves were deployed if it could be stopped by court challenges.
“If that’s the case, please don’t release any wolves,” he urged. “That will be your decision as the Wildlife Commission not to release wolves unless we already have the protections that 10(j) provides. You’ll have that ability to show that the landowners can trust you.”
CPW staff assured commenters that their questions will be answered by the draft plan when it is released next month. And the public will still have a chance to have their say; The CPW plans to submit a final draft to the commission on April 6, with a goal of having the plan ready by May and rolling out by the end of 2023.