Public and private groups cooperate to ensure that ranchers won’t bear the burden as the predators begin returning to their natural haunts.
A broad-based group of citizens and experts has offered common-sense recommendations about how to manage future wild wolf populations in Colorado, although several issues remain.
Wolves are likely to show up on our doorstep, either through natural migration or by being deliberately reintroduced by humans. The wolves may decide the issue for themselves, though: Packs brought to Yellowstone National Park in the 1980s thrived and expanded their territory. Last summer, one Yellowstone wolf was found dead near Interstate 70 in Colorado.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) began working on a wolf management plan even before the carcass was found in Colorado. The DOW hopes to base its plan on science and real-life problems associated with human-wolf conflicts.
Fortunately that’s where the report by the state’s Wolf Management Working Group points. The group, convened by the DOW, was composed of 14 sportsmen, ranchers, scientists, biologists and local government officials. After six months of talks, the group agreed that wolves that migrate to Colorado naturally should be allowed to live anywhere in the state the animals find suitable habitat. Problem wolves should be killed, and ranchers should be compensated for the full value of livestock lost to the predators, the report said. This balanced approach will form the basis for Colorado’s first wolf management plan, which the DOW hopes to finalize by May. The plan is important, because the federal government wants to turn wolf management over to the states.
There is no documented case of a healthy wolf attacking a human in modern North America, but wolves will kill livestock.
That’s where a program like the one run by Defenders of Wildlife, a private conservation organization, could prove useful. Since 1987, its effort has paid $472,000 to 373 ranchers in Wyoming and Idaho, and, under a newer program, $40,000 in Arizona and New Mexico. The program’s policy is to pay 100 percent of the value of a lost domestic animal if experts confirm that a wolf was responsible. Defenders of Wildlife also pays 50 percent of an animal’s value if there’s evidence a wolf probably killed it.
Such efforts have been so successful that a similar program is envisioned in the draft Colorado wolf plan.
Defenders of Wildlife also works with ranchers to reduce wolf predation on livestock in the first place. For example, ranchers are encouraged to breed their cattle and sheep early in the spring, and then keep the newborns under close watch. The practice avoids having newborn calves and lambs appear in the later spring, just when wolf mothers also have had their litters, and so reduces the likelihood that wolves will target the young livestock.
The DOW and its working group should invite Defenders to the table as they continue to craft the wolf management plan.
Wolves aren’t here yet, certainly not in any significant numbers. But there will be less fear and thus less of an outcry among ranchers if they know that when the predators do arrive, the livestock industry won’t be expected to bear the economic burden.