Carnivore Restoration News :: Sinapu

Monday, January 10, 2005

Wolves might call state home

Animal could be reintroduced to range for first time since the 1930s

By KEVIN DARST
KevinDarst@coloradoan.com

Colorado's first try at a wolf management plan is done, but tougher questions - including whether the animal will be reintroduced to the state - remain untouched.

"I don't think we've come up with anything that's extremely unique," said Del Benson, a Colorado State University professor and cooperative extension wildlife specialist who helped craft the plan. "Our plan didn't go to those creative solutions yet."

Benson and others from the state's gray wolf management plan working group will present their draft plan and 36 recommendations to the state wildlife commission Thursday.

The 14-member group with representatives from interest groups such as conservation, hunting, livestock and government spent about seven months last year building the plan, which will eventually dictate how Colorado deals with what many see as the inevitable migration of wolves into Colorado. The animals haven't widely roamed the Colorado range since the 1930s when they were killed off by federal agencies for attacking livestock.

The group also will present the plan at public meetings, including one in Fort Collins in February that has yet to be scheduled.

"It certainly could have been better, but it could have been a whole lot worse," said Rob Edward, director of carnivore restoration for Sinapu, a Boulder-based organization whose name is Ute for wolf.

Colorado's plan won't kick in until Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service settle a dispute over Wyoming's wolf management plan. After that, wolves north of Interstate 70, the Western Distinct Population Segment, could be removed from the endangered species list and control transferred to states. Until then, federal agencies will continue to manage wolves in Colorado.

Mexican gray wolves south of I-70, part of the Southern Distinct Population Segment, are likely to remain under federal management longer than their northern counterparts, and federal agencies have discussed reintroducing wolves into Arizona, New Mexico or southwest Colorado.

The transfer could prompt questions that Colorado's gray wolf group found too hot to touch: Will wolves be reintroduced to the state and, if so, where and at whose expense?

"That will be a very controversial plan, more than this one," said Tom Bender, a Larimer County commissioner who represented government in the working group. "I haven't even started thinking about that one yet."

The current draft plan, which won't be released to the public until the Thursday meeting, is a mix of plans already in place in other states, including Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana. The Colorado working group used the Montana plan as a framework, planners said.

"There's no place wolves can't go, no limit on the number of wolves, anything like that," Edward said.

But Colorado's plan likely will allow ranchers to kill wolves that are attacking livestock. That is similar to plans in Montana and Idaho approved earlier this month by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which also allows landowners to kill wolves that are stalking or guarding livestock.

Since 1987, Defenders of Wildlife has compensated ranchers for livestock killed by wolves and in 2004 paid out a record $138,000. Some ranchers critical of the fund say it doesn't compensate them for lost time and effort raising livestock, while others are reticent to accept money from the organization.

The compensation subject proved a dividing one for wolf advocates and livestock interests, Bender said.

"It was tough because there was a lot of distrust between the livestock and the wolf people," Bender said. "The livestock people were worried ... that reintroduction will come to the front (of the discussion). The wildlife people were concerned livestock people will abuse the compensation fund."

Said CSU's Benson: "It boiled down to a few basic issues of why people want them and why people don't want them."