Draft plan would release wolves in area that includes Summit County by end of next year
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the percentage at which Summit County voted in favor of the ballot measure to reintroduce wolves.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s draft wolf reintroduction plan would release 10 to 15 wolves by the end of next year in an area that includes parts of Summit County and continue annual releases for up to five years.
Based on the plan presented to the CPW Commission last week, wolves would be delisted from Colorado’s threatened species list once 150 of them are observed in the state over a two-year period or 200 are observed in one year. CPW estimates a population of 200 wolves would be about 25 packs covering 2.8 million acres of habitat.
Wolves released would be sourced from other western states and released into an area west of the Continental Divide and at least 60 miles from any border with another state or tribal land. While the potential area for release is relatively small, CPW expects wolves will eventually encompass a much broader range.
“We know that they will move outside of this area and come to inhabit areas … not only west of the Continental Divide but east as well,” said Eric Odell, species conservation program manager for CPW and the primary author of the plan.
The plan presented last week is the result of nearly two years of outreach with a wide variety of stakeholders. It digs into not only where and when wolves will be released, but how to compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves, how the predator will be managed going forward and what still needs to be decided by the commission.
The commission will consider approving the nearly 300-page plan in May. The state statute that was created when voters narrowly approved Proposition 114 in 2020 requires that wolves be released by Dec. 31, 2023. At least 54% of Summit County voters approved that measure.
CPW officials have identified two general zones where wolves will initially be released. The northern zone encompasses a broad area that stretches from Toponas to Aspen and Silverthorne to Rifle.
Odell said wolves would be released somewhere in the northern zone next year, with future release locations based on how the first year goes. The plan says between 30 to 50 wolves will be relocated to Colorado over a three- to five-year period.
The releases will occur in the winter and take place on state or private land, in an effort to avoid additional approvals to release wolves on federal land.
Following releases, wolves will be managed using a phased approach with more management tools becoming available as more wolves roam the landscape. Phase one of this plan denotes wolves as a state endangered species, which will remain in place until 50 wolves are observed anywhere in the state — including those migrating naturally — for four years.
In phase two, wolves would be moved onto the state threatened species list until there are 150 wolves observed over two years or 200 in any one year. Once that threshold is reached, wolves would be considered a delisted, nongame species in Colorado.
While wolves could remain as a nongame species, CPW also identified a fourth phase that would transition wolves to a game species and allow for hunting them, though the plan does not contain regulated hunting goals or objectives.
The goal of reintroduction is to establish a self-sustaining population of wolves that state officials will manage based on impacts. Those impacts, Odell noted, can be both positive and negative.
“When we implement impact-based management, more often than not, we’re focused on addressing the negative or conflict-oriented aspects of impacts of having wolves,” Odell said. “CPW does not view wolves as being a negative-only kind of impact.”
The plan outlines a number of nonlethal strageties to help manage wolves, but the plan says that killing wolves is also an important tool, especially in instances where livestock are being repeatedly attacked. Odell referred to lethal management as a short-term response to an incident and said it would only be employed if nonlethal strategies prove fruitless.
State and federal officials, as well as livestock producers, would have the authority to kill a wolf that is actively chasing livestock, provided they have a permit from CPW. A wolf could be killed for continuously preying on livestock as well, even if not caught in the act, though that kill would be reserved for state or federal agents in most cases.
“We don’t anticipate that this is something that will be done regularly,” Odell said.
Wolves could also be killed if they are deemed to have substantial impact on ungulate populations such as deer, elk and moose, though Odell said this could only happen within phase three and impacts would need to meet a “very high bar.”
“It’s extremely unlikely that parks and wildlife would ever impose any management on wolves due to an impact on other wildlife species because this has not been an issue in other states,” Odell said.
Wolves and livestock
The reintroduction draft plan allows for ranchers to be compensated for both direct and indirect impacts wolves can have on livestock. Compensating producers for indirect causes hasn’t been done in other states that have reintroduced wolves.
The plan creates two avenues for a producer to be compensated for killed or missing livestock, with one also allowing depressed weight gain to animals and other indirect effects to be considered. A producer will be given “fair market value” for livestock lost with a maximum of $8,000 per head.
The first allows ranchers to be compensated per animal killed, with potential to recoup more losses for animals that are missing. Compensation for missing animals could be increased if a rancher is working to employ measures to deter wolves.
A second, more complicated route would allow ranchers to itemize their losses, taking account for other changes in their herds like animals not reaching the same weight. If a rancher could document that the presence of wolves led to more stress and reduced growth in livestock, the rancher could be compensated for the difference.
CPW Commissioners Dallas May and Marie Haskett each said they thought the $8,000 maximum was too low, as some livestock such as horse or bulls can have a much higher value.
“A well-trained young ranch horse — the value of those start at $15,000,” May said.
The CPW Commission is working toward approval of the plan at its May meeting in Glenwood Springs.
The plan is currently available on CPW’s website, and written comments can be submitted at WolfEngagementCo.org. There are also five meetings scheduled around the state in January and February allowing the public to comment on the plan to the commission.
Following the last of those meetings on Feb. 22, CPW’s Assistant Director of aquatic, terrestrial and natural resources Reid DeWalt said it is imperative that CPW gives staff clear direction on what changes are needed to the draft plan based on public comment.
By the commission’s April meeting, CPW staff are expected to update the plan and draft any regulation changes that may be needed to carry out the plan. Based on the schedule, a first reading of those could be approved in April with a second reading in May.
Along with this process, CPW is seeking a designation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would designate wolves in Colorado as an experimental species and allow for the broader management tools outlined in the plan. DeWalt said he expects that process to be completed in fall 2023.
This story is from SteamboatPilot.com.
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