Colorado’s wolf reintroduction plan will allow killing ‘chronically depredating wolves,’ but won’t define what that means
Rancher at the center of wolf-livestock conflicts fears a lack of a definition will degrade trust between livestock producers, wolf advocates and CPW
The plan to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado will allow wildlife officers and ranchers to kill chronically depredating wolves after obtaining a permit, but what has to happen for a wolf to rise to that level will not be defined.
Regulations that outline the process to kill chronically depredating wolves were presented to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission at its meeting in Steamboat Springs on Thursday, April 6, but those regulations do not include a definition either.
Eric Odell, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s species conservation program manager, said the lack of specificity has been intentional, as a lack of any parameters gives wildlife officers on-the-ground flexibility to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Don Gittleson — whose ranch in North Park near Walden has been ground zero for conflicts between wolves and livestock in Colorado as wolves naturally migrated down from Wyoming and multiplied — said a definition of what constitutes chronically depredating wolves is paramount to maintaining trust between the agency managing wolves and the public.
“You need to have a definition for chronically depredating packs,” Gittleson said during public comment Thursday. “That definition is what triggers the 10(j) (rule), without that you don’t have a trigger.”
The 10(j) rule is a process Parks and Wildlife is working on in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has the authority to manage wolves since the animal was relisted as a federally endangered species. The rule, which is going through a federal environmental review process, gives the agency the authority to manage wolves as an experimental population.
The federal process won’t be done until Dec. 15 at the earliest, though that could be delayed if courts get involved. A bill in the Colorado Legislature sponsored by Sen. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon) and Rep. Meghan Lukens (D-Steamboat Springs) would prevent reintroduction from happening until that rule is in place.
Parks and Wildlife Commissioner Karen Bailey addressed Gittleson’s comments later in the meeting, posing the question to Lisa Reynolds, an assistant state attorney general who has been working with the commission on reintroduction. Reynolds said she didn’t believe a lack of a definition would cause an issue with the agency’s ability to kill chronically depredating wolves.
“I don’t think that the not having a definition of chronic depredation has any impacts at all on the validity of a 10(j), of the management flexibility that is there,” Odell said in response to Bailey’s question.
“It was intentional from both the stakeholder advisory group … and also from the technical group to not have a quantitative metric in there, just to provide that flexibility and not to provide the exact scenario that might arise if those metrics are made,” Odell continued.
The wolf plan addresses the lack of a definition, as do reports from the two working groups that worked to inform the plan’s current form.
“CPW program managers will make the determination as to whether a situation is characterized as chronic depredation on a case-by-case basis,” the draft plan reads.
Before killing a so-called problem wolf, the reintroduction plan says wildlife officials will consider documented, repeated depredations and harassment in a limited area by a wolf or pack of wolves, previously implemented practices to prevent wolf-livestock conflicts, the likelihood that wolf killings would persist if wolves remain and the presence of attractants that may lure or bait wolves into depredation.
After it was clear a definition would not be added to the plan before the Parks and Wildlife Commission considers its adoption at its May 3 and May 4 meeting in Glenwood Springs, Gittleson said he feared a lack of specificity would degrade trust between ranchers, wolf advocates and Parks and Wildlife officials deciding when a wolf needs to be killed.
“There already is that (trust) problem, you don’t need to do anything to add to that,” Gittleson said.
Other states that have reintroduced wolves do have a threshold that defines a chronically depredating wolf pack. In Oregon, two or more depredations by a single pack in nine months rises to that level. In Washington, three depredations in 30 days or four depredations in a 10-month window by a single pack is considered chronic depredation.
Without a specific definition, Gittleson predicted that ranchers would demand wolves be killed after a lone livestock killing and wildlife advocates would push back even if a pack or wolf has killed several animals.
“If you don’t say, ‘This is the point that triggers it’, you are going to have a problem on both sides of the aisle,” Gittleson said. “One of them is going to keep saying, ‘Oh no we don’t need it yet because we don’t have a definition,’ and the other is going to say, ‘We need it right now, because there’s not a definition.'”
The draft plan has received nearly 4,000 online public comments. Of those, 46% of them have come from out of state, 36% have come from the Front Range and 19% have come from the Western Slope.
The commission is set to consider approving the reintroduction plan at its May 3 and May 4 meeting in Glenwood Springs. As outlined in the ballot measure narrowly approved by Colorado voters in 2020, wolves will be released before the end of the year.
The proposed area where the first group of 10 to 15 wolves will be released includes parts of South Routt County.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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