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Preparing for predators

Julie Sutor
Special to the DailyAlthough it's improbable anyone will spot a wolf running through High Country forests in the immediate future, the Colorado Division of Wildlife wants to be ready when they do arrive.
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SUMMIT COUNTY – What do you get when you put four wildlife advocates, four livestock producers, two sportsmen, two government officials and two biologists in a room together?A wolf management plan for Colorado.That unlikely coalition has spent the past year preparing for wolves’ arrival in Colorado. Although it’s improbable anyone will spot a wolf running through High Country forests in the immediate future, the Colorado Division of Wildlife wants to be ready when they do arrive.”When might that happen? We don’t know,” said biologist Gary Skiba of the Division of Wildlife “It’s entirely speculative. Some people think it could happen any day and some say it will never happen. And people from both those groups are wolf biologists.”

Gray wolves roamed through Colorado until the mid-1930s, when they were eradicated by settlers. In the 1990s, the federal government reintroduced wolves into Wyoming, New Mexico, Idaho and Arizona. And in June 2004, a female wolf from Yellowstone National Park was found dead along Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs in the state’s first documented siting since the species’ disappearance.Because wolves can travel great distances, the Division of Wildlife formed the diverse Wolf Management Plan Working Group a year ago to develop a set of guidelines to deal with the animals once they cross the state line. The group’s plan covers information and education, management, damage payments to ranchers for livestock predation, conservation and management of prey populations and funding management.

“If we have a few wolves coming in, how do we manage them?” Skiba said. “This plan looks at that early situation where we have just a few wolves in the state. Everybody in the group agreed to these recommendations, and some were hard to come to – there was a lot of discussion and hard negotiation.”The working group and the Division of Wildlife have been touring the state this winter to gather public feedback on the plan.”I think there is a lot of value to maintaining large predators in our ecosystem, and that’s worth some negative human impacts,” said Breckenridge’s Chris Eckelat a recent meeting on the proposal. “My background is in parks and recreation management. So, from a personal and a professional standpoint, what gets adopted will affect me and the quality of life and recreation in Colorado.”Skiba said some ecosystems in the Yellowstone area have benefited from wolf reintroduction by controlling deer and elk populations, but Colorado’s landscape and climate are different enough to make it difficult to predict wolves’ potential effects.

Dalin Tidwell, a sportsman from north of Idaho Springs, also weighed in at a recent meeting.”I have family and friends with livestock,” Tidwell said. “The major issue for me is that they can control an individual (wolf) that causes problems. The ones that can get along are OK with me.”The group will continue to take public comment on the wolf management plan until March 4. The Colorado Wildlife Commission is expected to make a final decision on the plan in May.A recent twist in the process occurred three weeks ago when a federal district court upped the level of federal protection for wolves in Colorado and other areas. Previously, wolves were considered only to be “threatened” north of I-70. Under the new ruling, wolves throughout the entire state have the highest level of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.So, the state wolf management plan would only take effect once the wolf is no longer considered endangered.

==========================================Wild ideasHow to comment on Colorado’s wolf management proposal:

• Electronically: www2.merid.org/graywolf/comments.php• Fax: (970) 513-8348• Mail: Meridian Institute, Attn: Wolf Comments, P.O. Box 1829, Dillon, CO 80435The plan can be viewed online at www2.merid.org/graywolf

==========================================Vail, Colorado


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