Why the partnership between a Colorado cattle rancher and a wolf advocate couldn’t last | SteamboatToday.com

Why the partnership between a Colorado cattle rancher and a wolf advocate couldn’t last

A Walden rancher who lost cows to wolves and a wolf advocate who teaches strategies to protect cattle tried to work together. Their falling out shows just how controversial wolves are in Colorado.

Jennifer Brown
Colorado Sun
Kim Gittleson, in center, witnesses the investigation by Colorado Parks and Wildlife district managers surrounding a heifer carcass, killed by wolves that migrated from Wyoming, on the ranch outside Walden. on Jan. 19.
Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun

Awolf advocate and a Colorado cattle rancher who has lost several cows to wolves walk side by side against the picturesque backdrop of the northern Colorado mountains. 

In the minidocumentary produced by a national nonprofit working to overcome “extreme political and cultural division in America,” ecologist Karin Vardaman and Walden rancher Don Gittleson speak of common ground and ways that wolves and cattle ranchers can peacefully coexist. 

It’s touching and hopeful. Too bad it’s not the whole story.

In reality, the long-time rancher, whose cattle operation near Walden has been ground zero in Colorado’s wolf debate, and the well-known wolf advocate are no longer on good terms. 

Vardaman is the executive director of Working Circle, a group formed with California and Oregon ranchers in 2016 to protect cattle from wolves and help ranchers develop long-term strategies to reduce livestock depredation by large carnivores. The group provided Gittleson with a nighttime range rider last spring after wolves that migrated across the Wyoming state line attacked his cows. 

Then came the videos Vardaman accidentally left behind when she loaned Gittleson her game cameras last spring. 

He was furious to see old video of Vardaman putting drops of lure, a pungent liquid made of animal glands, on a rock to entice wolves in front of her camera. He deduced the videos were taken in northwestern Colorado, not on his ranch in north-central Colorado. But they were clearly filmed in cattle country, because they showed cows walking by the camera and sniffing the lure. 

Vardaman told The Colorado Sun she had intended to delete the videos before giving Gittleson the cameras and that she has not used the skunk-scented lure since Colorado Parks & Wildlife made it illegal in January. Also, she said, the lure doesn’t bring wolves into an area; it only makes them pause to sniff the substance if they are walking by, allowing the camera to capture their color and markings. 

Vardaman didn’t realize Gittleson had the videos until she was contacted by The Sun about the minidocumentary, because they haven’t talked in months. 

Clearly, things got messy when the two tried to work together on one of the most controversial issues in Colorado. The wolf debate has pitted ranchers on the west side of the state against wolf advocates nationwide since Colorado voters — mostly in Denver and other urban centers — voted in 2020 for the reintroduction of the gray wolf. The measure passed by a slim margin and specifically states that Colorado wildlife managers must put the wolves on the Western Slope by the end of 2023. 

Read more at ColoradoSun.com.

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