The picturesque Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley campus setting just outside of Glenwood Springs played host to a historic vote Wednesday approving the state’s gray wolf reintroduction plan.
Meeting at the CMC-Spring Valley Outdoor Leadership Center and Field House, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, chaired by CMC President Carrie Besnette Hauser, voted unanimously, 11-0, to OK the plan.
The decision came after more than two years of meetings with stakeholders and a series of public hearings that followed voter approval of Proposition 114 in November 2020.
That decision — with 50.9% of voters statewide in favor but much of the Western Slope where the wolves are to be reintroduced opposed — directed the CPW to come up with a plan to reintroduce wolves to parts of Colorado where the habitat was deemed suitable.
After that extensive process, including an April 6 meeting in Steamboat Springs where the final details of the plan were hashed out by the commission, Vice Chair Dallas May said it’s time to turn the reintroduction program over to the experts at CPW.
“Is it a perfect plan? Probably not,” May said. “If any group of stakeholders thought it was the perfect plan, it probably wouldn’t be as fair and balanced as I think it is.”
Arriving at the final plan required give and take, he said, just as its implementation will require some compromises along the way.
Hauser applauded the work of the commission and the more than 3,400 people who participated in the process and acknowledged the nearly 4,000 verbal and written comments received, which she said were factored into the development of the plan.
When that process started in December of 2020, Hauser said she never would have anticipated a unanimous vote to approve the plan. That speaks to the collaborative process, she said.
The final approval clears the way for CPW biologists to introduce wolves in the Western Slope area, including vicinities around Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Vail and Gunnison, and meet the voter-approved deadline of reintroduction by Dec. 31 of this year.
However, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, speaking on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners, took issue with that deadline.
“There’s nothing in the law that says wolves need to be on the ground by the end of 2023,” Samson said in comments before the commission on Wednesday. “That was a choice made by CPW.”
Samson noted that 63% of Garfield County voters were against Prop 114, and reiterated a joint stance by several Western Slope counties that a so-called 10(j) rule under the National Environmental Policy Act be implemented before wolves are set loose.
Such a rule would allow wolves to be hunted by license under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules as a means to control the wolf population.
Without that, critics say, management of wolf populations would be left to state and federal agencies that they say don’t have the resources to adequately do the job.
“The state’s reintroduction plan must provide our citizens, grazers, outfitters, etc., with adequate tools to manage an apex predator being forced upon them,” Samson said. “The 10(j) rule must be in place before wolves are reintroduced.”
“… Wolves need to be legally hunted and trapped to keep their numbers in check,” he said.
Several other speakers representing ranching and landowner interests agreed that the 10(j) rule should be in place first.
The bipartisan Colorado Senate Bill 256 would require the state to obtain a 10(j) rule. It was approved in the Colorado House, also on Wednesday, and was co-sponsored by state Sens. Perry Will, R-New Castle, and Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and state Reps. Megan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs, and Matt Soper, R-Delta.
Ginny Harrington, speaking on behalf of the Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association, said ranchers face many challenges, and dealing with the threat of livestock predation from wolves is just another challenge.
“If we’re not fairly compensated, we are at risk of losing these lands that provide important wildlife habitat,” she said in reference to deer, elk and other species.
Matthew Collins, speaking for the Western Landowners Alliance, referred to the “four C’s” — compensation, conflict prevention, control and cooperation — in achieving wolf management.
“Take one of these c’s out, and the system can fall out of balance,” he said. “A resilient, productive and diverse Colorado in which we can all share spaces depends on all four c’s being included in our approach to wolf management.”
Wolf-livestock depredation compensation rules contained in the reintroduction plan includes, in part:
- Raising the cap on livestock compensation, as well as guard and herding animal compensation, to $15,000 per animal.
- Excluding veterinary expenses from the compensation cap for livestock, as well as guard and herding animals, up to $15,000 or the fair market value of the livestock at issue, whichever is lower.
This means claimants can get paid for injury and death to livestock and related veterinary expenses, up to a potential maximum of $30,000 per animal, according to CPW officials.
Other provisions account for losses associated with future breeding potential of cows lost, and missing yearlings.
Numerous edits to the plan were adopted by the commission on the final vote, including regulations authorizing livestock owners to file applications with CPW seeking to lethally take wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock or working dogs.
Several conservation groups have opposed the provision allowing for wolves to be killed if they’re caught “chasing, harassing or molesting” livestock, as defined in the reintroduction plan.
Some wildlife advocates worry that too much discretion in the plan and rules will lead to significant wolf-killing.
“The devil is in the details and in the discretion allowed to CPW staff who determine when wolves can be killed,” Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, said during Wednesday’s final hearing. “If caution and coexistence are emphasized in those determinations, wolves stand a chance to thrive. If not, there will likely be more conflict than there needs to be.”
In a news release issued after the CPW vote, the group noted that the law designates wolves as a “non-game” species, which precludes recreational trophy hunting and trapping.
Joining the meeting via video conference after the vote was Gov. Jared Polis, who acknowledged the work of the commission to arrive at the final wolf reintroduction plan.
“This plan is better because of the thousands of Coloradans who provided thoughtful input, and I thank the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for their comprehensive work to develop this thoughtful plan,” Polis said. “This science-based plan is the result of months of planning, convening stakeholder and expert working groups and offering live and public comment opportunities, while factoring in the biological needs of the species, and creating the best possible chance for these amazing animals to be successfully restored to our state.”
The CPW Commission’s monthly meeting was set to continue Thursday at Spring Valley, with additional agenda items including a Wildlife Habitat Program overview and final approval.
Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 970-384-9160.