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Wolf Reintroduction in Colorado

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

As many know, voters in Colorado narrowly passed Proposition 114 in 2020, which approved the reintroduction of wolves on the Western slope. 

While Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) policy is clear in that we do not support wildlife management by ballot initiative as the vehicle for wolf reintroduction, we are now dealing with the reality wolves will be in the state in the near future. 

The reintroduction of wolves is a major concern for RMFU and the ranchers we represent, particularly because of the inevitable disproportionate impact on individual ranching operations due to this reintroduction. 

In addition to actively participating in the Wolf Restoration and Management Plan the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Commission is crafting, we are currently advocating for legislation in the Colorado General Assembly to guarantee ranchers are fairly compensated for losses they incur, as well as ensuring the state has all of the necessary tools to manage the wolf population effectively. 

Wolf Depredation

Compensation Fund

One of our major concerns related to the Wolf Restoration and Management Plan is the lack of a plan for sustained funding for compensation for depredation and production losses – lower weaning weights, lower pregnancy rates, etc. 

Luckily, Senate Bill (SB) 23-255, Wolf Depredation Compensation Fund is addressing this. As introduced, the bill would only have paid for depredation and veterinary bills related to a wolf attack. We pushed for the legislation to allow the fund to include production losses. 

Also, as the bill is written, any funds left over at the end of the fiscal year would revert to the Wildlife Cash Fund with CPW. We have advocated for these funds to be earmarked for wolf and livestock conflict minimization efforts so ranchers can offset costs related to prevention.

Previously, reverted funds could have been used by CPW for any program, including those not related to aiding ranchers with the burden associated with the wolf reintroduction.

SB 23-255 passed the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee unanimously on March 30. The bill awaits a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee before it heads to the Senate floor for a vote. 

We are hopeful this bill will pass the Senate and move to the House in the next week or two. 

The $350,000 fund will be pivotal to ensuring ranchers receive fair and just compensation for depredation and production losses that we are certain will happen due to the reintroduction of wolves. 

It is important to note the framework we worked out can be adjusted each year depending on the impacts of wolf reintroduction.

Management of Gray Wolves Reintroduction Bill

The other bill we are actively advocating for is SB 23-256, Management of Gray Wolves Reintroduction. This bill would ensure CPW has all of the necessary tools to manage the wolf population upon reintroduction. 

One of two main components would need to be completed before the reintroduction of wolves could occur. It requires the 10(j) Rule be adopted by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior before reintroduction. 

It is imperative the ruling on the 10(j) Rule happen prior to the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. 

Since wolves are currently listed as an endangered species, this rule would allow wolves introduced into Colorado to be listed as an experimental population, which means the population in the state is not crucial to the species’ survival. 

If the 10(j) Rule were in place, like it was when wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone, the state would have more tools available to them to manage the population effectively. This is because wolves in Colorado would be treated as a threatened species instead of an endangered species. 

Without the rule in place, the state would have to defer to federal authorities to manage the wolf population, which would effectively nullify the Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan. This would be detrimental to minimizing conflicts between the wolves, livestock and working animals.

The second component of the bill requires an environmental impact study on federal lands by reintroducing before wolves are placed on the ground. This bill also passed the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on March 30.

While wolf proponents have argued reintroduced wolves will only be on state and private land, it is common knowledge wolves migrate and can cover large areas of land. 

Therefore, it is hard to imagine wolves will not make their way onto the extensive federal lands naturally located in western Colorado. It is important to know the impacts on native species already on federal lands, including the endangered sage grouse. 

Wolves will most certainly have a sizable impact on the ecosystems on federal land, which is why it is important to understand this before reintroduction.

Continued efforts

RMFU is doing everything we can to ensure when wolves are reintroduced, ranchers are prepared and will have access to fair and just compensation for impacts from wolves. 

It is also vital to hear from the public about the concerns they have regarding this reintroduction so we can accurately relay their concerns. 

We will continue to engage until the Wolf Restoration and Management Plan is final and to work with legislators as we continue to fight for Colorado ranchers.

The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union originally published this column on their website on April 6.

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