How Colorado plans to reintroduce wolves to the West Slope by 2023

How Colorado plans to reintroduce wolves to the West Slope by 2023
How Colorado plans to reintroduce wolves to the West Slope by 2023

Colorado could be less than a year away from the state’s first relocation of gray wolves to parts of the Western Slope, as required by a ballot initiative passed by voters in 2020.

A draft plan released by Colorado Parks and Wildlife last month calls for the reintroduction of 10 to 15 wolves per year over the next three to five years, with an initial goal of a stable population of at least 50 animals in the State.

“This draft plan represents the division’s best effort to develop a master plan and common sense approach to implementing Proposition 114,” said Carrie Besnette Hauser, chair of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, during the panel meeting in December. “The goal was to come up with a plan that the majority of the public will support and that represents a compromise that is reasonable, viable and likely to change over time.”

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Voters narrowly approved Proposition 114, a citizen-initiated measure backed by wildlife conservation groups, by a margin of 51% to 49% in November 2020. She ordered the CPW to come up with a plan and take steps to reintroduce gray wolves west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023.

Under the state’s 293-page draft plan, CPW staff will work with counterpart agencies in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to capture wolves from existing wild populations in those states and release them onto state and private land at least 60 miles from the neighboring state. or tribal borders.

A map from Colorado Parks and Wildlife showing two areas where gray wolves could be released starting winter 2023-24. (CPW)

Based on habitat suitability and conflict risk criteria, the plan identifies a northern area centered on Glenwood Canyon and a southern area centered on Gunnison County as the best locations for winter releases of captured wolves. The first releases would take place in the northern area in the winter of 2023-24, and wolves will be tracked via GPS collars to help wildlife managers collect survival and dispersal data.

Although the new law includes a provision requiring the state to compensate agricultural producers for any livestock losses caused by wolves, West Slope ranchers and industry groups like the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association remained wary of the proposal.

The draft state plan includes detailed procedures to compensate ranchers for livestock losses of up to $8,000 per animal. Commission Vice Chairman Dallas May, a Lamar rancher, called the plan a “good start,” but told state staff the $8,000 maximum was “insufficient.”

“A lot of horse and livestock seed stocks are worth a lot more than that,” May said. “A well-trained young ranch horse – the value of these starts at $15,000. Most people have pastures of $15,000 horses that are needed to run their business.

“A momentous achievement in conservation”

Gray wolves are native to Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states, but were hunted to near extinction by the mid-20th century. With the support of conservation groups, reintroduction efforts like that at Yellowstone National Park beginning in 1995 have allowed populations to recover in the northern Rockies. Studies have linked wolf reintroduction to a variety of positive effects on affected ecosystems, such as healthier elk herds and the recovery of riparian habitats previously damaged by overgrazing.

Sightings of wolves that have migrated from other states have been periodically reported in Colorado, and the state’s first breeding pair of wolves in 70 years was confirmed in Jackson County in 2021.

Dillon Hanson-Ahumada, a Southern Rockies field representative for the Endangered Species Coalition, said in a statement that CPW’s plan “marks one more step toward a momentous conservation achievement for nature and people.” of Colorado”.

“The gray wolf is an important native species to our state and a vital part of the wildlife heritage we all share as Coloradans,” Hanson-Ahumada said. “We will work to ensure that the final plan commits Colorado to full wolf recovery now and for future generations of Coloradans.”

Some environmentalists, however, oppose the plan’s approach to livestock-wolf conflicts. Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the draft plan “opens the way for far too many wolves to be culled”. Under the plan, many state protections for wolves would expire once the population reaches 200 animals, which could lead to legal wolf hunting, as states like Montana and Wyoming have allowed. .

“This disappointing proposal fails to hold ranchers accountable for preventing conflict and will lead to government agents routinely shooting Colorado wolves from helicopters,” Robinson said in a statement. “The commissioners should reject this project and rewrite the plan based on the science.”

CPW staff will hold five statewide public hearings in January and February to receive public input on the draft plan, with a final round of reviews and potential approval of the plan scheduled for April and May. Members of the public can also submit comments via an online form until February 22.

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. Colorado plans reintroduce wolves West Slope

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