Yampa Valley ranchers unite in effort to inform wolf recovery rules including lethal take
Ranchers and other residents across Northwest Colorado are focused on obtaining what they see as the most favorable regulations possible when Colorado reintroduces gray wolves in the state, likely before the end of this year.
Last week, a group of about two dozen Moffat County residents, including everyone from county commissioners to local livestock producers and those whose livelihoods depend on the local hunting industry, welcomed an expert in the field of wolf recovery to pick his brain before a series of public meetings this week, including one Wednesday, March 15, in Craig.
“I think their future is going to be greatly affected,” said Lenny Klinglesmith of the local ranchers and hunters. “The majority of the voters that passed the reintroduction won’t have any consequences past the vote. These people are going to deal with it for decades to come because this is an action that you don’t undo. The management here forward is going to have a huge impact on their lives.”
Klinglesmith is a member of a stakeholder advisory group that’s been working on the state’s wolf reintroduction plan after voters mandated that Colorado bring gray wolves back into the state by 2023.
For a number of Moffat County livestock producers, much of their attention is focused on a provision Congress added under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, allowing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the discretion to devise management programs and special regulations for experimental populations of endangered species.
Under section 10(j), a population of a listed species can be designated as experimental if the animals will be released into an area outside the endangered species’ current range and isolated from any existing populations. If a reintroduced species is designated as a nonessential, experimental population, lethal take prohibitions and consultation requirements can be relaxed to help manage the reintroduction effort.
In some cases, the 10(j) rule has protected land owners who incidentally harm black-footed ferrets. Other times, it’s meant killing gray wolves caught preying on livestock in Wyoming.
Elements of the 10(j) rule being considered for Colorado’s wolf reintroduction plan would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to take gray wolves under a set of specific circumstances, and the service could authorize landowners and public land permittees to kill wolves in a limited number of scenarios, such as when a wolf is caught preying on livestock.
“I’d say (lethal take) has been a very important tool in the northern Rockies to support the landowners and the people working the land, working with the resources to feed people and to take care of wildlife and domestic ungulates — I think it’s a valuable tool for (wildlife officials) to have,” Klinglesmith said. “I think the goal of everybody is to make this as successful as possible … I believe the key is to keep everything reasonable. When we get on the fringes of being unreasonable, one side or the other, is where we end up with failures.”
Addressing the room of about two dozen people last week at the Yampa Building on March 7, an expert in the field discussed how the agency typically handles public comments, and he emphasized which comments might be the most likely to affect the final decision.
Based in Lander, Wyoming, Scott Becker is the Region 6 wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He has been involved with large carnivore management since 2000 and switched strictly to wolf management in 2008.
Becker coordinated and directed wolf management activities around Cody, Wyoming, from 2008-12, and he was the statewide wolf specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from 2012-17, where he also coordinated and directed field activities related to wolf recovery, prior to him returning to Wyoming for his current role.
According to Becker, highly emotional comments are “useless” when it comes to informing the final rule. Instead, the agency is looking for comments on topics like how best to handle wolves if they have a negative impact on big game hunting in the area. Comments that speak to the socioeconomic impact of wolves on counties and communities or offer pertinent data can also be helpful.
“In our proposed rule we do not have a regulation in there regarding the take of wolves if they have a negative impact on big game populations right now, but it is included and analyzed in the draft (environmental impact statement), and so if we do receive numerous comments on that, that is something we may consider in the future, is actually including that in the rule itself,” Becker told the group.
There are a handful of ways people can comment on the proposal including online at Regulations.Gov by entering in the docket number “FWS-R6-ES-2022-0100.”
Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding a series of three in-person public meetings this week, each with a short presentation and an open house to provide people a chance to ask questions, talk with agency staff and submit comments on the proposed rule and draft EIS.
The first public meeting was Tuesday, March 14, at Grand Junction Convention Center. The second will be Wednesday, March 15, at the Moffat County Pavilion in Craig, and the last will be Thursday, March 16, at the Wattenberg Center in Walden. A virtual meeting is also scheduled for 5:30 p.m. March 22. Register for it online at bit.ly/COgraywolf.
The comment period ends April 18. A final rule is expected to be published in the fall with wolves reintroduced back into Colorado in December. For more, FWS.GOV/office/colorado-ecological-services-field-office/colorado-gray-wolf-updates.
Eli Pace is the editor of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-871-4221.
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