(COLORADO SPRINGS) — On Wednesday, May 3, the Parks and Wildlife Commission voted on the final approval for the Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan meaning wolves will be reintroduced in the Western Slope by the end of this year.
“A really big deal for us, a milestone, kind of a monumental event,” Public Information Officer at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Travis Duncan, said. “It was the result, the culmination of more than two years of really extensive statewide stakeholder meetings and outreach with a series of public hearings and collecting feedback from folks from all over Colorado.”
The proposal has been in the works for more than two years with public meetings being held throughout the state for concerns to be addressed.
“We contracted with Keystone Policy Center, who first thing held public meetings all around the state to collect public feedback,” Duncan said. “You know… the draft plan was released December 9th, and then we had five more meetings in the early part of this year to collect more feedback from the public for in-person and one virtual meeting.”
Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program Director for WildEarth Guardians spoke on the role wolves play in the ecosystem.
“So wolves were here for many, many years before we were here,” Larris said. “And it wasn’t until 1945 that wolves were wiped out from Colorado and they really have this impact on ecosystems that has been missing for so many years. And as we’ve seen in Yellowstone with the reintroduction, there was help to sort of keep other populations of ungulates as well as other like smaller predators, like coyotes in check.”
Key concerns community members raised on the reintroduction of wolves included human safety concerns with wolf attacks, well being of domestic dogs, and the safety of livestock.
“So we see issues, but we’re optimistic that if the plan is enforced and it’s implemented well, that there could be a successful outcome for wolves,” said Larris.
Janie VanWinkle is a fourth generation rancher in western Colorado and expressed her concerns on the reintroduction of wolves.
“I guess I’m kind of torn a bit as well,” VanWinkle said. “I clearly understand the voters have spoken barely, but it was the will of the voters and so will find a way to make this work. That’s what we do as producers… but I don’t believe that people who are in favor of this have any idea of the havoc that can be unleashed on livestock and on wildlife in western Colorado.”
To address the concerns of ranchers, the plan outlines that they will be compensated if an animal is injured or lost from a wolf attack.
“In the rare event that, that does happen, the person could claim $15,000 for the veterinary expenses, and up to $15,000 for compensation for the death of the animal as well,” said Duncan.
While ranchers will be compensated, VanWinkle said losing cattle impacts the health of the livestock.
“If you have generations of genetics in your cow hurt and you lose something that’s one of those cows, then you’re not just losing that cow, VanWinkle said. “You’re losing production from that cow for the next several years and so money is a piece of it. But I think it’s way bigger than just about the money.”
The VanWinkle Ranch is a family-run business, and VanWinkle shared her worry of seeing dead livestock on the property.
“But it’s also very concerning that we’re talking about dead livestock here,” VanWinkle said. “And I don’t think people understand what that does mentally, emotionally, financially is a piece of it, but it’s also a lot of things that are lost on the ranch for that time period.”
When looking towards the future, VanWinkle is hopeful of the 10(j) rule passing which would designate the wolves as an experimental species.
“But there’s a bigger component here and that is the wolves are federally listed and so in order for producers or Parks and Wildlife to have the authority to take a wolf that is devastating is killing livestock, we have to have what is being what is known as the ten day rule.” VanWinkle said. “And the 10(j) rule is from Fish and Wildlife Service that designates this population of wolves as nonessential experimental population.”
Wolves will be introduced later on in the colder months and Duncan said it could be about 10 to 15 wolves per year for the first three to five years.
“We’re very excited to find out or figure out where the source populations are going to come from and just start looking at where the location, the best locations on the Western Slope will be for the release of wolves,” said Duncan.
You can read the full CPW proposal here or watch the wolf reintroduction education series online.
In the more than two years it took for the proposal to receive approval, Duncan believes it took into consideration public feedback.
“I think we definitely heard those concerns and tried to incorporate those concerns into this final plan and made those edits to the draft plan where that might have been lacking,” said Duncan.