Adoption of wolf plan called ‘incredible’ |

Adoption of wolf plan called ‘incredible’

Cliff Thompson
Preston Utley/Vail DailyForging a preliminary wolf management plan was "incredible," said Bruce McCloskey, director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

AVON – Colorado’s Wildlife Commission Thursday afternoon adopted preliminary plans for what biologists have been saying for years – wolves will be moving into Colorado from surrounding states on their own, and it needs to prepare.Wolves from Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona and Idaho are expected to migrate into Colorado – some have already reached the state. The commission adopted recommendations from a 14-member citizen’s committee consisting of environmentalists, ranchers and biologists for dealing with the consequences of individual migrating wolves. The recommendations are not without urgency.Last fall a female wolf from a pack introduced to Yellowstone National Park was run over and killed on I-70 just 30 miles west of Denver. Wildlife experts say the state’s largest elk herd, in the Flat Tops Wilderness and surrounding area just west and north of Eagle County, could be a magnet for wolves.This “apex predator” that’s listed as endangered by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service weighs 80 to 120 pounds, hunts in social packs and preys mainly on deer, elk and to a lesser degree, domestic livestock. It was wiped out in Colorado more than 70 years ago by hunting, trapping and poisoning. “We know we’re going to have wolves here,” said Bonnie Kline, a member of the Wolf Working Group and the Colorado Wool Growers Association. Kline was quick to add livestock producers don’t want wolves here, but that it “Makes sense to have a plan.”

Managing wolves may be a more a case of managing how people react to wolves preying on livestock, deer and elk. What committee members and wildlife managers want to avoid is vigilante justice – shooting, shoveling and shutting up when wolves prey on livestock. Instead, they hope to create regulations that livestock producers can follow for addressing how wolves can be managed. “We’re kind of in the twilight zone,” said committee member Jean Stetson about what ranchers can do about wolves threatening their livestock. Big Bad Wolf?”It’s about myths – the slathering vicious wolf,” said Gary Skiba, a biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “Wolves are a polarizing issue.”

There have been some documented attacks on humans by wolves, Skiba said, but they’re rare.One of the keys will be a public education campaign about wolves, and also how to pay for monitoring and managing them, committee members said. But where the money will come from, remains in question. Unlike the management other wildlife, which is funded by hunting and fishing license and other fees, wolves shouldn’t be funded by sportsmen, the committee recommended.Also unanswered is what individual livestock owners will be able to do if they find a wolf or wolves preying on livestock. Those recommendations are being developed by the working group and by the Division of Wildlife.Adoption of the recommendations of the committee doesn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for the so-called charismatic carnivore, said Bruce McCloskey, director of the Division of Wildlife, but it is a significant step nonetheless.

“To get cattlemen and wool growers to agree wolves can be here if they’re not causing trouble is meaty,” he said. “It’s incredible that the group was able to put aside their differences.”While the unanimous adoption of the nine-person Wildlife commission is a first step in acknowledging the predator’s presence in the state, old taboos remain. The wildlife commission still opposed any wolf reintroduction efforts and Colorado still has an anachronistic $2 per wolf bounty on the books that can only be removed by the Colorado Legislature.’Wyoming gyrations’But Rob Edward of the Sinapu, a carnivore restoration organization, who was also on the working committee, said he’s cheered by adoption of the recommendations.

“The door is cracked open,” he said. “Colorado is preparing to approach the wolf debate with an open mind – unlike the contentious polarized debate of our brethren in other states have taken. We must open it wide to ensure that we’ve met our obligation as stewards.”Wildlife Commissioner Rick Enstrom agreed with Edward about the committee’s unanimous decision.”We got it done without the polarizing nuclear event and the Wyoming gyrations,” he said. Bitter negotiations over wolf management have predominated wildlife management policies in Colorado’s neighbor to the north.In Yellowstone National Park, where wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s, there are now 400 or more of the predators. The packs have helped restore the ecosystem to health, Edward said. They’ve kept big game animals on the move and prevented them from herding in river bottoms, allowing vegetation there to regenerate. That in turn has allowed birds and other small game to proliferate, he said.

“Wolves are so important to the ecosystem,” he said, adding that they also prey on coyotes and help bring that predator’s numbers into balance.Adopting the recommendation of the committee could begin to pave the way for state management of the carnivore that now is under federal protection, but being eyed for de-listing to a threatened species in certain areas. But the state/federal management issue remains up in the air following a lawsuit over wolf management in Oregon.The Wolf Working committee will continue to meet and develop additional recommendations to the Wildlife Commission about wolf management.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or Colorado

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