Eagle County will probably see wolves reintroduced to its remote areas, and that worries ranchers
Wolves are probably coming to Eagle County. Area ranchers are nervous about it.
Proposition 114 passed narrowly in the 2020 general election. The proposition requires the state to create a plan to reintroduce gray wolves to the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is now in the final stages of creating a draft plan to implement the new law.
Feb. 22: End of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s public comment period for its draft wolf reintroduction plan.
Feb. 7: Public meeting in Rifle.
Feb. 16: Virtual public meeting.
May: Plan approval.
More information is available on Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s web page.
Marcia Gilles, Eagle County’s director of open space and natural resources, recently briefed the Eagle County Commissioners on progress so far about creating a plan to bring the animals back to the state.
Gilles noted that part of the reintroduction plan is meshing state regulations with existing federal gray wolf protections. She also said that wolves will be introduced in areas at least 60 miles from state lines and tribal lands.
With those and other restrictions in mind, Gilles noted that Eagle County is “ecologically suitable” for wolf reintroduction, adding that no decisions have been made yet about relocation areas.
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Before those decisions are made, “The more we can talk and communicate, the better off we’ll be,” Gilles said.
Protecting animals and humans
Gilles said the ultimate goal of the program will require state and local officials to be proactive with local communities to protect wolves, humans and livestock.
“We want to pay attention to what (reintroduction) means to help ranchers live side by side with wolves,” Gilles said.
A couple of local livestock producers wonder if that’s possible. Rancher-wolf conflicts led to wolves being eliminated in Colorado in the 1940s.
Clayton Gerard’s family runs cattle in the Gypsum Creek area, both on pastures and in leased grazing areas on nearby federal land.
Gerard is worried that wolves released around Gypsum Creek “might put us out of business.”
The state plan draft so far allocates up to $8,000 per animal killed by wolves. Gerard worries how that’s going to work.
Having worked in the past with predation reimbursements from species, Gerard noted, “You’re lucky to get half out of what you’ve got into (an animal).”
In the northern part of the county, Cass Galloway and her husband, Richard, own the Big Hat Ranch, raising alpacas. A number of the 86 animals on the ranch have won championships in various competitions.
Cass Galloway said that a champion male can bring $1,000 for one breeding session. A $5,000 payment doesn’t come close to covering the production potential of that animal, she said.
Wolves are different
While the Big Hat is surrounded by an 8-foot fence, and there are guard dogs on hand to protect the animals, Galloway noted that since wolves hunt in packs, the dogs are outnumbered.
Even with those measures in place, Galloway noted that a bear or mountain lion will occasionally take an animal. In those cases, the ranch is allowed to host private hunts for those predators on ranch land. Wolves, though, can’t be hunted or killed by a landowner.
Predation reimbursement ought to cover the market value of an animal, Galloway noted, adding that value often far exceeds a sheep, alpaca or bovine on the hoof. She said someone who raises sheep for, say, Merino wool, loses far more than the basic value of that animal when it’s killed by a predator.
Above the loss of individual animals, Galloway said the stress of having predators in a neighborhood can affect livestock, noting that stress can affect alpaca fiber.
In her report to the commissioners, Gilles acknowledged “there’s a lot of emotion” about wolf reintroduction, from both supporters and opponents.
That means federal, state and local officials have to make sure the reintroduction plan is a good one.
“If we’re not managing right, it’s not fair to the wolves in the end,” she said.