CPW confirms heifer carcass found near Walden was killed by wolves

Ranchers fear cost of managing livestock with wolves won’t be reimbursed

Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed Tuesday, Dec, 21, that this heifer was killed by wolves near Walden, the first kill in about 70 years.
Colorado Cattleman’s Association/Courtesy photo

Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed Tuesday, Dec. 21, that a carcass of a heifer found near Walden was killed by wolves.

Ranching advocates say the roughly 500 pound heifer — born this spring and meant to replace an older cow in the herd — is at the heart of nearly every issue facing a commission planning Colorado’s reintroduction of grey wolves.

The animal carcass was first reported to CPW on Sunday, and wildlife officers are confident wolves are to blame after an investigation.

“The results of this investigation indicated wolf tracks in the immediate vicinity of the carcass and wounds on the calf consistent with wolf depredation,” Steamboat Springs Area Wildlife Manager Kris Middledorf said in a statement.

CPW officials added that state law already includes a program to compensate landowners for livestock killed by mountain lions and bears, and that program will be utilized to compensate the rancher whose heifer was killed by wolves while the formal process is being drafted.

Colorado voters narrowly approved language that requires the reintroduction of grey wolves by the end of 2023, but a handful of wolves have been in the state for some time.

CPW confirmed that a wolf from Wyoming’s Snake River Pack was near Walden in 2019 and then placed a tracking collar on another wolf earlier this year. Wildlife officers have also observed pups from that pair — the first such breeding pair in decades.

Colorado Cattleman’s Association Executive Vice President Terry Fankhauser said the kill is not unexpected, and it should highlight the importance of how regulations around livestock predation are being crafted by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission.

“Certainly, we expect more of this to happen, and it’s the law of the land to reintroduce wolves,” Fankhauser said. “It’s important that these situations become part of the planning process. We learn from them.”

Fankhauser said he does not doubt the landowner, who has not been identified, will be compensated for the loss of the animal. However, he also said this particular rancher has been taking more costly steps to avoid wolves all year, and a check for the heifer won’t help the rancher recoup those costs.

“He’s made management decisions that cost him time and resources and not even being able to use his headquarters facilities to calve,” Fankhauser said.

According to Fankhauser, the rancher is also noticing more open cows — meaning they are not pregnant and won’t produce a calf this spring. The rancher attributes this to stress on the animals caused by the wolves’ presence, Fankhauser said.

Paying for the dead animal isn’t the only issue, as the ballot measure approved by voters included language that requires the commission to set up a program to compensate for wolf kills. However, Fankhauser said he believes the language goes further, requiring the commission to come up with a way to compensate landowners for added expenses to manage wolves.

Longtime local rancher Jay Fetcher said it is those added costs, not livestock predation that most concerns him. Right now, one person using a fat tire bike, horse or all-terrain vehicle is the primary manager of his North Routt ranch.

“The cows know where they are, and they’re very comfortable,” Fetcher said. “I just know if there’s two wolves roaming around our Hahns Peak property, the cows would be a whole different story in terms of what (one worker) could manage. She’d need extra help. She’d have to be there every day.”

Fetcher is part of the Western Land Alliance, which has a representative on the commission’s Stakeholder Advisory Group trying to ensure the commission pays attention to these added costs.

“If we lose two to three to four calves a year, the compensation is built into that,” Fetcher said. “But there’s no discussion about compensating me for extra land management.”

In Tuesday’s release, CPW Director Dan Prenzlow said the commission is working on regulations about how ranchers can try to scare wolves away from livestock but also noted that wolves cannot be killed for any reason other than self-defense, as they are an endangered species.

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