Here come the wolves
CPW's draft plan to reintroduce controversial species released

Here come the wolves
Sam Brasch / Colorado Public Radio - 12/15/2022

Thirty to 50 wolves in the next five years. Brought from somewhere in the northern Rockies. Released in south-central Colorado.  

Those are some details in a new draft wolf management plan released by state wildlife managers Dec. 9. Under the measure, Colorado must put “paws on the ground” somewhere on the Western Slope by 2024 and offer fair compensation for lost livestock.

Here are some of the highlights from Colorado’s plan to rebuild a sustainable wolf population – something the state’s lacked for more than 80 years.

• Reintroduction pace: 30 to 50 wolves over the next three to five years.

• Wolf source locations: The preferred populations are from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The state could also consider Washington or Oregon.

• Release locations: The plan commits to releasing wolves more than 60 miles from state borders to reduce the possibility they immediately migrate into neighboring states. In addition, the ballot initiative ordered releases on the Western Slope. The result is a “donut hole” in the south-central part of the state. The plan says next year’s release should occur in the area’s northern section, essentially the I-70 corridor between Vail and Glenwood.

• Legal protections: Wolves are currently an endangered species under state law. The plan outlines a system to decrease protections as the wolf population grows, reclassifying them as threatened if Colorado counts more than 50 wolves in four successive years. Wildlife officials could consider reclassifying wolves as a game species if there are more than 150 wolves for two years or more than 200 wolves in a single year. That change could open the door to a regulated wolf hunt.

• Lethal control: The state retains the right to kill wolves that develop a habit of preying on livestock or damaging game populations.

• Compensation for lost livestock: There will be a system to pay ranchers more than the market value of animals if he or she proves a wolf loss. They can choose to receive up to seven times the value of the original animal or itemize the cost of additional losses, like livestock gaining less weight due to nearby wolves. 

The agency will take public comment on the proposal through February before the commission takes a final vote in May.

The plan won immediate praise from nine out of 17 members of the Stakeholders Working Group – composed of conservation advocates, ranchers and hunters – who said the plan puts Colorado on the path to becoming a “beacon” for effective wolf conservation. 

The proposed program to pay for lost livestock appealed to Erin Karney, the executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. She said her members wanted a system to cover both the value of lost livestock and any associated costs of living near the predators.

“If we want to make reintroduction successful, we need to make sure livestock producers are compensated,” Karney said. “I believe this will do so.” 

Not everyone was so positive about the proposal.

Chris Smith, of WildEarth Guardians, said the draft confirms many of the coalition’s biggest fears. In his view, it gives wildlife managers unnecessary discretion  to kill wolves, fails to close the door on a regulated wolf hunt and sets population targets far below what some biologists say is necessary for sustainability.

“There are some good elements in it, but it needs scrutiny from commission members who have scientific backgrounds,” Smith said.

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