Alternate wolf plan includes parts of White River National Forest, Summit County
WildEarth Guardians along with more than a dozen conservation and wildlife groups revealed their own restoration plan for wolf introduction on the Western Slope.
A portion of the plan includes a map of what parts of the state would be habitat zones for gray wolves. For Summit County, much of the land is designated as “suitable wolf habitat in zones 450 square kilometers and larger.” The map also indicates 12 specific zones for release of wolves, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and portions of White River National Forest. The group excluded the Southern Ute Reservation because, as a sovereign nation, the Southern Ute Tribe has expressed opposition to having wolves.
Groups that put the alternate plan together said that they feel that there has not been enough meaningful public input during the state’s process.
“Removing wolves from Colorado’s wild places has cascaded into a slowly building ecological disaster and biodiversity loss,” the plan reads. “Colorado’s Rocky Mountains need wolves, and wolves need the Colorado Rockies.
Parks and Wildlife has assembled two groups — the technical working group of wildlife professionals and the stakeholder working group of representatives from the ranching community and conservationists.
“The discussion has really focused on these negative impacts of wolves rather than the positive ones in critical ways,” Lindsey Larris, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, said. “We’re finding that the spirit and even the letter of the ballot initiative has been lost or undermined. What we’re doing here is not necessarily criticizing what the process is but putting forward a different perspective. What if we looked at the positive benefits of wolves while acknowledging the real realities of having to deal with human interests, as well? So our plan is much more focused on restoration and positive benefits while also considering things that are at the paramount of discussion in the official process.”
In June, the Keystone Policy Center — the third-party facilitator for stakeholders for the state’s proceedings — gave an update from its meetings to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission. In that update, a lot of recent conversation has surrounded interactions with livestock, wildlife and other species. This included scenarios such as if a wolf has been caught in the act of chasing, wounding or killing livestock or working dogs.
Larris said that in the alternative plan, conflict mitigation would involve a “conflict deterrence plan” developed by Parks and Wildlife to identify non-lethal measures, and those plans would be public. When it comes to killing a wolf, the plan expresses that a Parks and Wildlife manager can only use lethal measures on private land and under specific emergencies when threatening livestock.
“What you’ll see (in the plan) consistently throughout here is that we believe that there should never be lethal management of wolves on public land — that public land is a shared resource and that there should be obligations on those who are using that land for grazing purposes to coexist with wildlife,” Larris said.
Currently, there are no specific release sites in the state’s proceedings, but current plans have wolves being placed on the Western Slope. Parks and Wildlife agents have confirmed that they expect that some wolves will move east.
Delia Malone, wildlife chair for the Colorado Sierra Club, said that the introduction of wolves under the alternate plan would encourage predation of game that has chronic wasting disease. Currently, the state has made investments to expand testing, but Malone said that wolves provide a natural and preferred way of getting rid of sick game.
“Human hunters typically don’t want to select disease-ridden animals, whereas wolves and lions do want to select disease-ridden animals because they are easier to take,” she said. “The effectiveness of human hunters as compared to native carnivores and mountain lions is much less.”
On July 21-22, as part of this month’s commission meeting, Keystone Policy Center and Parks and Wildlife agents will present further updates to the commission about the wolf reintroduction process. Updates include funding recommendations and a phased approach to reintroduction.
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