Wolf-recovery panel takes hands-off stance for now

The Denver Post

By Theo Stein
Denver Post Staff Writer

Pioneering wolves migrating into Colorado should be allowed to live unmolested – unless they start killing livestock, a state panel said last week.

If adopted next year, that recommendation would make Colorado the first state in the interior West to voluntarily accept the return of the region’s top predator.

And it would come as a result of a historic compromise by the state’s still-powerful ranching community, whose forebears exterminated wolves in Colorado by the mid-20th century.

“We think the best approach is to live and let live,” said Craig rancher and wolf group member Jean Stetson.

While the Colorado Wolf Working Group isn’t due to present final recommendations to the state Division of Wildlife until December, the panel appears to have crossed a critical ideological divide that confronts wolves wherever they go.

When the panel first convened, several ranchers and sportsmen suggested wolves would take too great a toll on livestock and big game to allow their return.

“There’s nobody who’s still saying we will have to get rid of every wolf we can as soon as we can,” said Gary Skiba, the Division of Wildlife biologist working on the wolf plan. “That was a very difficult step.”

“We’ve made some progress, though it’s been pretty painful,” acknowledged Bonnie Kline of the Colorado Wool Growers Association.

The job of the wolf working group – composed of hunters, ranchers, professional biologists and environmentalists – gained added impetus in June when a radio-collared female from Yellowstone was struck by a vehicle and killed on Interstate 70 west of Denver. Since then, there have been no other confirmations of wolves in the state, Skiba said.

But biologists expect that young wolves dispersing from Yellowstone will continue to move south toward Colorado every year.

Meanwhile, the panel has deferred talk on the thorniest wolf-recovery issues in an effort to achieve a consensus report for the state wildlife agency by December. The plan under discussion deals only with the first wolves to recolonize the state. If and when packs of wolves re-establish themselves, however, many ranchers will want to evaluate tighter controls, Stetson said.

Stetson, Kline and other panel members have already asked Division of Wildlife officials to let them reconvene, perhaps as early as next year, to tackle other questions, including whether the state should jump-start recovery by reintroducing wolves; who, over the long term, will pay ranchers for their losses; and how many wolves are too many.

Staff writer Theo Stein can be reached at 303-820-1657 or tstein@denverpost.com .


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