Monthly Archives: September 2004

Panel debates the wolf and the dollar

By Marilyn Gleason
Special to The Aspen Times

Most Coloradans like the idea of the idea of wolves roaming the state’s forests, but the animals come at a price.

A diverse group working together to plan wolf management in Colorado tackled the finances of livestock losses at a meeting Wednesday near Glenwood Springs.

Wolves have been missing from Colorado since the mid-1930s, according to the state division of wildlife, but successful programs to reintroduce them in neighboring states point to their eventual return. Two polls in the past decade have shown that most residents would welcome them back.

In Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, where the animals were successfully reintroduced in the last decade, state wildlife agencies requested $2.5 million this year to cover the costs of managing the 800 wolves. That amount includes paying specialized staff, monitoring the wolves with devices such as radio collars, research and reimbursements for livestock killed by wolves.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the panel representing livestock producers, sportsmen, wildlife biologists, local governments and environmental advocates discussed various schemes for compensating livestock loss. Members debated how to pay and how much to pay, whether through the division of wildlife or a separate system.

Livestock producers and hunters worry about the economic impact wolves will have on their business.

Bonnie Kline, executive director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association, didn’t hesitate when asked what concerns her most about wolves: “Depredation. Wolves do eat livestock, so it’s an issue.”

In 2003, wolves killed 150 commercially grown animals in the northern Rockies. To compensate for those losses, producers were paid $30,000.

Conservationists are willing to pay double the value of the animal in Colorado to create goodwill among the wolf’s fiercest opponents, said Rob Edward of Sinapu, which advocates wolf reintroduction and conservation.

The panel considered compensating ranchers at rates from double all the way up to eight times livestock value.

In Colorado, the wildlife division now pays livestock producers for animals killed through its big game damage fund. With fees collected from state hunting licenses, it pays for everything from livestock preyed upon by lions and bears to hay eaten by elk.

In other states where wolves have been reintroduced, Defenders of Wildlife uses money raised through private donations to compensate ranchers for depredation.

Colorado could use a combination of both sources to pay higher than market value for livestock lost to wolves.

“By paying extra for the one that’s killed, you end up paying for the ones not found. It adds a sense of fairness,” said Gary Wockner, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Colorado.

It’s a possible solution to what Gary Skiba of the wildlife division called “the undocumented losses debate that’s been raging within the group.”

Producers claim other “ancillary” losses. Jean Stetson raises cattle in Craig with her husband, a third-generation cattle rancher. She cites livestock harassment, lower pregnancy rates and underused pastureland as additional costs. She said cows weigh less because “they’re nervous.”

Wockner said double or higher compensation is “a shorthand way of addressing those concerns.”

“It’s certainly beyond what other states are doing. It’s very progressive,” he said. “It’s probably something we could do in Colorado, and we could [likely] afford it.”

One scheme would raise funds to offset livestock killed by wolves statewide through the Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which would turn the money over to the state to administer through the big game damage program.

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Group devises plan to deal with wolves

By David Frey
Aspen Daily News

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Ranchers, environmentalists, sportsmen and government officials are gathering at Sunlight Inn to hash out a plan to deal with wolves when they come into the state, whether they’re reintroduced or they wander in on their own.

The two-day meeting is part of a series held by the state Division of Wildlife’s wolf management working group, which brings together conflicting interests to handle what many consider inevitable: that one way or another, wolves will come back to Colorado.

“I don’t want wolves past the state line,” said Bonnie Kline, executive director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association. “I don’t want them now. I don’t want them at the end of the plan. But I’m trying to be a team player.”

At the Glenwood meeting, the first to be held outside the Denver area, members are trying to come to agreement on generalities in the hopes of finalizing a plan to present to DOW commissioners and the public next month.

Group members say they haven’t agreed on anything yet, but they seem to have settled on at least one issue: Wolves will have some kind of presence in Colorado.

“I think it is a pragmatic realization that they are probably going to drift here and we have to have a plan in place to manage them,” said group member Jean Stetson, a cattle rancher near Craig, where ranchers have reported unconfirmed wolf sightings.

Wolves have been considered exterminated in Colorado since the last known wild wolf was killed in 1945. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has introduced gray wolves into Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona.

Last June, just days before the group was first supposed to meet, a radio-collared wolf was killed on Interstate 70 after having wandered 490 miles south from Yellowstone National Park. Its appearance drove home the likelihood that wolves would wander into the state on their own from reintroduced packs either to the north or the south. North of Interstate 70, wolves are to be taken off the endangered species list. Wolves found south of the highway would still be considered endangered.

Wolf supporters want to launch a reintroduction program in Colorado, too. Rob Edward, director of the Colorado carnivore reintroduction group Sinapu, calls Colorado the “last, best place” for wolves.

Wilderness areas like the Flat Tops north of Glenwood Springs and in the San Juans in southwestern Colorado are eyed as prime spots for wolves to return. The Flat Tops has the country’s largest elk population, Edward said, and one of the largest mule deer populations, making for good wolf hunting grounds.

“The people of Colorado want wolves now and the wildlife needs wolves now,” said Edward, citing two polls conducted over the last decade that found most Coloradans supported wolf reintroduction. Studies of habitats where wolves have returned showed improvements to everything from elk herds to aspen stands, he said.

Colorado’s Western Slope could sustain over 1,000 wolves, he said. “I think it rivals the capacity of Yellowstone and Idaho in terms of its capacity to support wolves.”

That’s something many sheep and cattle ranchers, who fear wolves could damage their herds, don’t want to see.

“The problem to me is, if there’s a mom-and-pop operation that’s already on edge and struggling, I don’t want that to be the one thing that puts them over the edge,” Stetson said.

Government programs where wolves have been reintroduced pay ranchers for losses to wolves. But compensation won’t cover things like genetics in breeding animals, Stetson said, and it won’t make ranchers who oppose the very idea of the wolves’ return change their minds.

“For some ranchers, compensation means acceptance of the program,” she said. “I think there are some ranchers that wouldn’t accept the program.”

Stetson said at her Moffatt County ranch, she’s already changed her irrigation system to accommodate the endangered native fish the humpback chub and changed grazing methods to protect the endangered sage grouse. Others have had to deal with white-tail prairie dogs, the Preble’s mouse and lynx, she said.

“You throw the wolf on top of it, I’ve had about all I can take,” Stetson said.

Participants are asked to try to put some of their differences aside and create a plan that represents as much of a consensus as possible. DOW wildlife biologist Gary Skiba said his agency would settle any lingering disagreements.

“We’ve come to consensus on a lot of issues,” he said. “I’m not sure we’ll resolve all of them. I don’t know. There are strong opinions on these things.”

That means thorny issues like reintroducing wolves into the state may not be addressed in the plan.

The group planned to work late into the evening Tuesday and get back to work by 8 a.m. today.

State group tackles thorny issue of wolf management

By Marilyn Gleason
Aspen Times

A panel of Colorado residents is trying to reconcile 19th century fears with a 21st century fascination with wild predators.

In the fourth meeting of the Gray Wolf Working Group, members said they were unlikely to meet an October deadline for a draft plan to manage wolves in the state. The group will gather at the Sunlight Mountain Inn at 10 a.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. on Wednesday. The meeting is open to the public, with participation limited to a comment period.

Barely a month after the group was assembled last spring, the discovery of a dead gray wolf on the side of Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs lent a new urgency to its mission. The wolf, which wore a collar and had migrated from Yellowstone, was the first to roam the state since at least 1945. Love them or hate them, wolves are an emotional issue.

“It’s a very tough process, a very volatile issue,” said Bonnie Kline, executive director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association and a member of the group. “We have an excellent group of people, but it’s a tough deal.”

The panel is comprised of four wildlife advocates and four livestock producers, as well as two representatives each for the viewpoints of sportsmen, local government and wildlife biologists.

Representatives from eight federal and state agencies involved in public land and wildlife management, as well as the Colorado Office of Economic Development, advise the panel.

The 14 members of the Gray Wolf Working Group must overcome their differences to fashion a management plan to be implemented by the Colorado Department of Wildlife after a 60-day public comment period.

Kline is fighting for Western Slope sheep, which are most vulnerable to wolves. Wolf advocate Rob Edward of the Boulder-based organization Sinapu acknowledged that “sheep don’t seem to have that innate ability to defend themselves. It’s been bred out of them.”

But what sheep lack in instinct, they make up for in political clout. The Colorado Wool Growers Association, founded in 1926, about a decade before wolves disappeared from the state, exists as a legal issues management organization for the state, lobbying at the state and federal level.

What wolves lack in political clout, they make up for in popularity. Two polls in the past decade have shown that high percentages of Coloradans want wolves restored.

Coloradans and residents of Arizona and New Mexico supported wolf reintroduction and restoration by margins upward of 2Ðto-1 in surveys conducted in 1994 and 2001. Enthusiasm for wolves was slightly lower on the Western Slope than east of the divide in 1994, but still high at between 58 percent and

65 percent; enthusiasm was lowest among livestock producers.

The division of wildlife created the Gray Wolf Working Group in May with the stated goal of having a draft management plan, after five or six meetings, by the end of October. Gary Skiba of the DOW is the wildlife biologist adviser to the panel.

“Right now we don’t have any legal authority to manage wolves in Colorado,” he said – even if the state had any wolves.

Nonetheless, two factors have pushed the agency toward having a management plan. Successful reintroduction programs in other western states mean the federal government is close to taking the wolf off the list of threatened species, at least in the northern part of Colorado, which will return management to the state.

Second, although reintroduction is unlikely in Colorado, few doubt that the wolves will get here on their own soon enough, as lone individuals migrate from Wyoming to the north and New Mexico and Arizona to the south.

Endangered wolves were reintroduced in five western states beginning about a decade ago. Although Colorado is part of the gray wolf’s historic range, it was not required to have wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

Last year the Fish and Wildlife Service revisited the animal’s legal status. Observing that populations to the north are establishing well, the agency drew a boundary between wolf populations in order to speed the gray wolf’s removal from the list of endangered species, a boundary which splits the state of Colorado.

Reintroduced wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are now considered threatened, while the southern, or Mexican, wolves in Arizona and New Mexico remain under the more highly protected endangered designation.

In Colorado, the most endangered wolf of all was the lone female who wandered 500 miles and died on Interstate 70, which is the artificial boundary between southern and northern wolf populations.

The boundary is controversial on both sides. Kline would like to see all the wolves delisted, and chafes at the idea that a wolf who made it safely across the interstate would attain additional protection.

“We’re not sure there’s any evidence that we ever had Mexican wolves,” she said.

Sinapu’s Edward calls the action “unprecedented” and faults the Fish and Wildlife Service for falling short of its duty to effect species recovery throughout its former range. The wolf now occupies only 5 percent its historic range, according to Edward. He sees the wolf delisting as part of a “pattern developing after 15 years of cantankerous opposition to the Endangered Species Act by industry – mining, logging, grazing and private property rights groups.

“Because wolves are such a political hot potato, and because the livestock industry is very powerful in the West, wolves are being treated differently,” he said.

At the group’s July meeting, Edward exhibited some of the restless intensity of a predator while Kline showed none of the meek vulnerability of a feedlot lamb. Both organizations hold a hard line on their issues.

“As an association, we’re opposed to wolves in Colorado,” said Kline.

Sinapu is dedicated to restoring and protecting large carnivores in the southern Rockies.

The two represent the extremes on the committee that must come together for a plan to be successful.

So far, tangible achievements are negligible. The panel agreed to recommend relaxing a stringent Colorado law protecting wolves to come into line with the federal standard. Now a rancher north of I-70 can kill a wolf caught in the act of preying on livestock.

And, although Colorado is not required to manage for wolf survival, Skiba said the group has said it will allow some wolves to live here.

“Even that is a big step – a difficult step for some people,” he said.

“These are people with very strongly held opinions on both sides of the spectrum,” Skiba said of the panel. “There is movement on both ends of the spectrum,” but finding agreement among the full group is a challenge.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit has taken pressure off the group to stick to the timeline.

Because wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have met recovery goals, they were expected to be off the list of endangered and threatened species by the end of the year. But Wyoming’s plan to sustain the wolves was deemed unacceptable.

Edward explained that under Wyoming’s definitions, “It was open season on wolves anywhere outside of Yellowstone.”

Now Wyoming is suing the federal agency for rejecting the plan, delaying the wolf’s delisting in nine Western states and easing pressure on the state DOW to have a plan in place.

While the group intended to save time by utilizing the experience of other states in creating wolf management plans, Kline noted, “No other states have put together a plan in less than a year.”

Skiba said the group must determine how to prevent and compensate livestock depredation; how to compensate ranchers; and how many wolves should reside in the state, possibly by setting maximum or minimum figures.

Skiba said the question of whether the plan can be drafted by the end of October will be a “major point of discussion” at the meeting this week in Glenwood Springs.

Wildlife commissioners OK lion study

By Dale Rodebaugh
Durango Herald Staff Writer

State wildlife commissioners, meeting Thursday in Durango, approved Colorado’s most extensive study of mountain lions: a 10-year look at the lion population, its habitat requirements, and predator-prey relationships on the southern end of the Uncompahgre Plateau.

“For many years, management of the mountain lion was a biologist’s best guess,” Gary Miller, the Department of Wildlife research leader, said outside the meeting. “But since it’s a high-profile species we needed hard, scientific data.”

The only available data about lions comes from a preliminary study in the 1980s, Miller said. Now, under the direction of Dr. Ken Logan, a former carnivore research consultant and now an employee of the state Division of Wildlife, the study is scheduled to begin in November.

No recreational hunting of mountain lions will be allowed during the first five years to allow researchers to establish basic data about the cats, Miller said. The only kills will be to protect human life. Recreational hunting will be allowed to the extent possible in the second five years, Miller said.

The study area encompasses 900 to 1,000 square miles of Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and private land lying roughly north of Ouray and south of Delta and west to the Utah border, Miller said.

The southern end of the Uncompaghre Plateau is probably the best mountain lion habitat in the state, Miller said. It’s large, relatively isolated and has an abundant population of elk and deer, the mountain lion’s main prey.

Information from the study will be applied as soon as it’s available, Miller said.

“We’ll plug anything useful into management strategy,” he said. “We want to make sure that decisions-makers have the latest data.”

Miller said hunters, stockmen and carnivore preservationists support the program.

Wendy Keefover-Ring, with Sinapu, an organization dedicated to protecting and restoring carnivores in the Southern Rockies, proposed a quota on kills of female lions. The proposal was made on behalf of Sinapu and a dozen other environmental groups.

Written information provided by Sinapu said because the mountain lion season opens soon after the summer and fall months when females give birth, many kittens are orphaned. The groups proposed a hunting quota for females, based on scientific findings.

Todd Malmsbury, spokesman for the DOW, said general agreement exists that female mountain lions shouldn’t constitute too large a percentage of the kills during the seasonal hunt. But there was no consensus on what the percentage should be.

Measures already in place can control the number, Malmsbury said. Because each mountain lion killed must be checked by the DOW, biologists are aware of changes in the number of males and females, and permits can be issued accordingly.

The matter wasn’t scheduled for final action.