Colorado Parks and Wildlife strikes public hunting reference from wolf plan ahead of anticipated May approval
Commission also nearly doubles cap on compensation a rancher could get if wolf kills livestock
Steamboat Pilot & Today
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission eliminated references to future public hunting from the draft wolf reintroduction plan on Wednesday, Feb. 22, as it refines the document ahead of anticipated approval in May.
The commission also agreed to increase caps on how much money a rancher could be reimbursed if their cattle or other animals are killed by wolves. This decision nearly doubled the previous limit of $8,000 per animal in the initial draft to $15,000.
At the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Reid DeWalt, Parks and Wildlife’s assistant director of aquatic, terrestrial and natural resources, said he felt the commission had dealt with many of the most significant issues in the plan, though the public is still weighing in.
“We’ve moved a bunch of the big rocks and you’ve given us indications of where you’d like those big rocks to land,” DeWalt said. “There’s a lot of public comment coming in as we speak and I do think the commissioners need to continue to pay attention to that.”
Wednesday was the last of five meetings that the commission held to get feedback from the public about the draft plan, though there are still opportunities for the public to weigh in. The commission will discuss the plan again at its regular, two-day meeting in March.
The commission will finalize the draft wolf reintroduction plan at a meeting in Steamboat Springs on April 6, before considering approving the plan at its meeting in Glenwood Springs on May 3 and 4.
Online public comment on the draft plan closed on Wednesday as well, though people can still submit any comments on the wolf reintroduction plan directly to the commission.
The Keystone Policy Center, which has been a consultant throughout the drafting of the plan, will put together a qualitative report on public comment received that will be presented at the April meeting in Steamboat. Comments submitted directly to the commission will not be included in this report.
After hearing about two hours of public comment on Wednesday, the commission quickly agreed to increase the amount that livestock producers could be compensated for an animal killed by wolves. In addition to increasing that cap to $15,000 for livestock, the commission also decided to allow ranchers to be reimbursed for veterinarian bills incurred because of a wolf attack.
Another change made was to allow ranchers to use personal records to show how many cows have a calf, rather than veterinarian records that members of the commission say are expensive to obtain and not commonly sought by ranchers.
The lengthiest discussion focused on a section of the draft plan that used to be referred to as phase four of reintroduction. That section is now being called “Long Term Wolf Management,” though the commission shied away from making any statements that could handcuff a future commission into any decision.
“This is not the management plan, this is the reintroduction plan,” said Commissioner Taishya Adams of Boulder. “I’m hopeful that we can stay focused on the information, the resources, the time and expertise we have in hand and not saddle a future commission with something that we don’t know.”
While the draft of the plan said public harvest of wolves could be one tool Parks and Wildlife could use to manage the population when it is not longer on any state endangered or threatened species lists, commissioners said there are other tools and they feared singling one out would signal to the public that tool would be used.
“(These changes are) fairly significant and I think it reflects the conversations that we’ve had and the compromises that have been suggested by the commission,” said Commission Chair Carrie Hauser.
Progressing alongside the commission’s effort is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 10(j) rule, which would allow state officials broader management tactics.
The federal process includes an environmental impact statement, which the service published earlier this month. As written, the rule would allow ranchers to kill wolves that attack livestock, even though this isn’t currently allowed under the Endangered Species Act.
The 60-day public comment window for the proposed rule will close on April 18. The service will also conduct four meetings in March to glean more feedback, including one scheduled for March 15 in Craig.
This story is from SteamboatPilot.com.
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