Parks and Wildlife Commission considering emergency rule that would allow ranchers to haze wolves

Livestock advocates say there needs to be a lethal option

Dylan Anderson
Steamboat Pilot & Today
A gray wolf is pictured in captivity.
Getty Images

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission will consider during a virtual meeting this week emergency regulations allowing ranchers to protect livestock by hazing wolves.

Wolves killed a heifer near Walden last month — the first such confirmed kill in decades. If approved Wednesday, Jan. 12, new hazing regulations would go into effect right away because of the emergency process, but commissioners first discussed the policy in November.

The commission, with the help of two working groups, has been working to craft how to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado by the end of 2023 after voters narrowly approved the controversial ballot measure in 2020 to restore wolves to the landscape.

But recognizing a handful of wolves are already in the state, commissioners commended Parks and Wildlife staff in November for working to get regulations in place proactively.

“I think this is a promise that we made, that we would give livestock owners the tools to protect their livestock,” Commissioner James Tutchton said in November. “It’s appropriate that we put this in place right off the bat.”

Approval at this week’s meeting would have set up the regulations to go in place in March, but the commission believes immediate action is necessary to preserve public health, safety and welfare, and to comply with language in the ballot measure that requires restoration be designed to resolve livestock-wolf conflicts.

The draft regulations outline several nonlethal methods for ranchers to use but note that injury or death to a wolf because of hazing techniques would still be illegal.

Under the proposed regulations, ranchers would be allowed to use livestock guard animals, fladry (a rope fence with small flags that blow in the wind and scare wolves) and scare devices like propane cannons, vehicles, range riders, noisemakers, and motion- and radio-activated guard devices.

Nonlethal projectiles like cracker shells (a shotgun shell that explodes in the air shortly after being fired), rubber buckshot, rubber slugs and bean bag rounds would also be permitted.

Longtime Routt County Rancher Jay Fetcher said he would love to know how well some of these tactics work but questioned who would do them even if they prove successful.

“Am I going to do the work?” Fetcher said. “Is (Parks and Wildlife) going to do the work? It’s not so much the predation; it’s extra labor costs. Where do we find the people to do stuff like that?”

Right now, Fetcher said his ranch manager can handle all 200 cows by herself, but wolves will change that scenario. He hasn’t seen any wolves at this point, but there are strong rumors among his neighbors that they are in the area, and the terrain is similar to North Park, where the wolf kill happened.

Even if labor wasn’t a problem, Fetcher said it is often difficult to jump the hoops to make changes on U.S. Forest Service grazing permits, potentially making some of these techniques difficult to deploy.

Tom Zieber, a Gunnison County resident and longtime wolf advocate, told the commission in November that it is common sense to allow ranchers to haze wolves but questioned what situations wolves could be hazed from.

“If a den site is located on public property, Forest Service land for example, and that was later to be used as an allotment for grazing, would the rancher be able to haze wolves out of the den?” Zieber asked.

Commissioner Dallas May, of Lamar, responded, saying he believe the commission needs to define the difference between hazing and harassment, because the mere presence of wolves shouldn’t mean they can be hazed.

But Fetcher and other livestock advocates, like the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, believe there also needs to be a lethal solution.

“It’s going to happen, whether it is legal or not,” Fetcher said. “There has to be some kind of legal control because I know my peers, and they’re going to shoot, shovel and shut up.”

Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Cattlemen’s Association, said he doesn’t have a problem with the proposed regulations but hopes they are adaptable going forward as producers and Parks and Wildlife learn what works and what doesn’t.

“There is an occasion where all tools need to be in the toolbox,” he said, referring to a lethal option.

The regulations being considered would apply only to wolves that have naturally migrated into the state, as none have been reintroduced yet. Fankhauser said he expected a lethal option to continue to be part of the discussion, but everything will depend on the biggest unknown in the plan so far.

“All of this conversation leads us back to how many and where,” Fankhauser said about the reintroduction plan.

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