Report will detail how state handles migrating wolves

Trapping, relocating animals one option

By BILL McKEOWN THE GAZETTE

Few animals in the West provoke the kind of emotion that wolves do. Love ’em or hate ’em, everyone has an opinion on the wily critters.

A report due out in October about how the state should handle migrating wolves won’t be out until December. Those writing the report — including environmentalists, livestock producers and biologists — still are wrangling with several contentious issues.

After decades of eradication efforts, the last credible report of a wolf in Colorado was in 1935.

But wolf populations are on the upswing in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and most experts say it’s a matter of time before at least a few of the highly mobile animals make their way southward.

A wolf was spotted fairly recently near Baggs, Wyo., just a few miles north of the Colorado border. There have been numerous unconfirmed wolf sightings in Colorado in recent years.

A sense that a return of the wolves is inevitable led the Colorado Division of Wildlife this year to appoint what it calls the wolf management working group to make recommendations about how the agency should handle the animals.

One study has found the state’s biggame herds could support 1,000 wolves, but Division of Wildlife biologist Gary Skiba has said human residents’ tolerance for the wolf will play a larger role in setting the upper limit for any wolf population.

Rob Edward of the Boulder-based advocacy group Sinapu and a member of the wolf management group said it’s proven difficult to find consensus among members about how many wolves should be allowed in the state and in what numbers.

Killing the wolves that migrate naturally into the state isn’t an option — at least not a legal one.

Wolves still are a federally protected species.

Edward said the group will have one last meeting next week and try to craft a report.

“We’re still hammering out some contentious, difficult issues, and there’s still a large chasm,” he said.

“It’s hard to say where we’ll go. There’s a possibility we won’t all agree, and there could be some kind of split decision.”

Edward said one problem is the group was given too narrow a charge.

He said members can’t discuss whether wolves should be reintroduced but rather how to manage them if they wander into the state on their own.

He said the federal government has made a false demarcation line using Interstate 70, saying any wolf south of it will be treated as endangered and any wolf north of it as threatened. That makes it difficult to construct a consistent policy in the state, he said.

Tom Bender, a Larimer County commissioner and a member of the wolf group, said participants will be able to hammer out recommendations. But he said they may be less specific than some members want.

The men said participants in the group have agreed that some presence of wolves in Colorado is acceptable and that there needs to be some way to compensate ranchers for livestock losses.

But members still are struggling with several issues:

– Should wandering wolves be trapped and relocated to a specific place, perhaps Rocky Mountain National Park, to create a pack that can be studied? Or should they be allowed to roam unfettered in more wild areas?

– Should wolves be tagged and fitted with collars to track movements?

– Should wolves be delisted as a threatened species north of Interstate 70 even if they are not in the state?

– How can a compensation system be created for ranchers that is equitable and verifiable?

– How will wolves affect the populations of deer and elk?

Edward said the work has been difficult, and there’s a lot more to do, but he said getting people together with strong feelings about the wolf — for and against — has been beneficial.

“There’s a lot more understanding on both sides of the table on concerns and issues,” he said.

“Not every rancher in the group is opposed to wolves, and we’re not opposed to compensation for ranchers.”

After the report is released, there will be a 60-day period for public comment. The Division of Wildlife will use the recommendations to shape policies.

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