Colorado stakeholder group outlines recommendations about when wolves could be killed
Feds start process to designate Colorado gray wolves an "experimental population"
Steamboat Pilot & Today
An advisory group working on Colorado’s wolf reintroduction process believes if wolves are actively attacking livestock, they can be killed by wildlife agents and, in some cases, livestock producers.
Initially, producers would need to obtain a permit to take a wolf that is attacking livestock, but when populations are large enough to be delisted — at least 150 wolves sustained for two years — no permit would be required.
“The vast majority of wolves that are anticipated to be on this landscape are not going to be involved in any type of conflict,” said Eric Odell, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s species conservation program manager.
The recommendations come from Stakeholder Advisory Group, one of two working groups helping the agency fulfill a 2020 ballot measure to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado by the end of 2023. The stakeholder group lacks rulemaking authority, but recommendations will be incorporated in the final reintroduction plan that CPW expects to have finished by the end of the year.
Odell presented the group’s recommendations to the CPW Commission on July 22, noting that lethal management is one of many tools available and shouldn’t be considered a “first line of defense.”
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“At a population scale, this type of management is not a threat to the long-term viability of the species,” Odell said. “Lethal control is not intended to be a long-term tool across both space and time. It is a short-term response to an immediate issue.”
Current recommendations for reintroduction suggest it will be carried out over three phases. Phase 1 would be when wolves are still considered “endangered” at the state level. Phase 2 is referred to as “threatened,” with this transition occurring after CPW documents at least 50 wolves for four years.
Phase 3 would correspond with de-listing wolves on a state level. This would happen if there are 150 wolves for two years, or at least 200 wolves. Odell said CPW views these thresholds as minimums, not population goals.
The group recommends that wolf education and nonlethal tactics to haze a wolf are preferred to lethal management in all phases.
Killing a wolf wouldn’t be allowed in a case where wolves are present but not attacking livestock. Noninjurious tactics like fladry, range riders and guard dogs as well as injurious tactics like rubber buckshot would be encouraged if needed.
When wolves are caught in the act of attacking livestock, and nonlethal tactics have been tried, recommendations say state or federal officials could kill the wolf. In Phases 1 and 2, a producer could kill the wolf if they obtained a state permit and they provide evidence of an attack.
In Phase 3, the producer wouldn’t need a permit, but the case will still be investigated by CPW to ensure there was actually an attack.
If wolves are determined to be a chronic problem, state and federal officers can decide to kill the wolves regardless of the phase. In some cases a producer may obtain a permit to take a chronically depredating wolf, but the stakeholder group wanted CPW officials deciding whether a wolf has become that much of a problem, not producers.
“They intentionally did not make a recommendation to state that a particular number of depredations within a particular period of time would be classified as chronic; rather, evaluation of the entirety of the situation will inform CPW in making this determination,” Odell said.
Recommendations also consider what to do if the presence of wolves leads to a decline in ungulate — deer, elk, moose — populations in a particular area. The group agreed these wolves could be relocated, but they did not take a vote on whether they could be killed. The group made the same recommendation regarding wolf impacts on other species like sage grouse and Canada lynx.
In a parallel effort to the working groups, Reid Dewalt, CPW’s assistant director for aquatic, terrestrial and natural resources, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is starting the process to get CPW what is called a 10(j) ruling under the Endangered Species Act.
When voters initially passed the 2020 ballot measure, wolves were about to be delisted, after which management authority would go to CPW. But a court ruling in February relisted wolves and put the Fish and Wildlife Service back in charge. The 10(j) would designate Colorado’s wolves an “experimental population” and give CPW authority to manage them.
This will require an environmental review, which is currently under a 30-day review process. The Fish and Wildlife Service is holding several public meetings on the potential ruling, including one from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, at Moffat County High School in Craig.
“If all goes according to plan, late fall of 2023 the record of decision and final rule will be published,” Dewalt said.