Monthly Archives: February 2005

New Mexico law aims at cougar

Associated Press


Cougars are one of the most elusive predators and the hardest-to-hunt predators on the planet

SANTA FE, N.M. – When snow finally fell recently on the 292,000-acre Bell Ranch in northeastern New Mexico, Bert Ancell went looking for a cougar.

He found the big cat’s tracks, let the dogs out, then followed them perhaps five miles until they lost the scent up a canyon.

”They thought they had him treed… but they could never find him,” recalled Ancell, the cattle ranch’s assistant manager. ”Cougars are one of the most elusive predators and the hardest-to-hunt predators on the planet.”

If Ancell has his way, cougars — also known as mountain lions — could be shot on sight by New Mexicans who happen to encounter them. A proposal pending in the state Legislature would do away with the cougar’s 34-year-old protection as a big-game animal whose hunting is regulated.

Supporters say that would help boost the flagging number of mule deer — a staple of the lions’ diet — as well as aid livestock growers who lose cattle, sheep and horses to the cats’ urge to snack.

And they contend that the difficulty of finding cougars ensures that they wouldn’t die out even if hunting were unlimited.

”If you saw one, you’d have the chance to kind of cut down on the population a little bit,” said Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, the bill’s sponsor, whose huge eastside district borders Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.

Wildlife advocates are horrified by the proposal, which would give cougars the status of coyotes or skunks. It would make New Mexico the only state other than Texas that treats them as varmints.

Lisa Jennings, executive director of Animal Protection of New Mexico, calls it a return to ”19th century policies and practices regarding wildlife management.” It’s barely a cut above the $5 bounty on cougars that the Territorial Legislature of New Mexico enacted in 1867, she said.

Mountain lions are found in every Western state, and their hunting is regulated by state agencies — except in California, where no sport hunting is allowed.

”Because they are so cryptic and so shy and because they avoid each other… their density across the West is very low,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of carnivore protection for Sinapu, a Boulder, Colo.-based wildlife advocacy group.

A large tom can have a range of 100 square miles, she said.

Over the two decades ending in 2002, the number of mountain lions killed by sport hunters in 10 Western states each year roughly tripled, to 3,500, according to Keefover-Ring.

”I am very concerned that… they may be imperiled,” she said. Instead of the ”wrongheaded” approach of the New Mexico legislation, states ought to be studying the density of the large predators, she said.

In Colorado — where population estimates range from 3,000 to 7,000 — the Wildlife Commission has launched a 10-year study to determine the number of mountain lions, its habitat requirements and the number of prey.

The commission also decided to reduce the number of cougars that can be killed this year, from 790 to 567.

In New Mexico, the Game and Fish Department’s best guess — based on a decade-old study — is that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 of the cats.

The number of mountain lions that can be killed by sport hunters during New Mexico’s six-month season varies by zone, but is capped this year at 233 statewide.

Ranchers and their employees can kill cougars year-round on private lands, but they’re limited to one cougar apiece a year. Those kills don’t count against the statewide harvest limit.

© 2005 Monterey County Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.


Political appointees move to undermine lynx recovery in Colorado


For more information contact:

Jacob Smith, Center for Native Ecosystems 303.546.0214
Rob Edward, Sinapu, 303.477.8655 ext 2#
Sloan Shoemaker, Wilderness Workshop, 970.618.6022
Rocky Smith, Colorado Wild, 303.839.5900

Glenwood Springs, Colorado – The public comment period ends today on a Bush Administration proposal to gut lynx protections on Colorado’s White River National Forest. Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture David Tenny, a political appointee hired by the Bush Administration, ordered the Forest Service to eliminate rules that protect lynx and lynx habitat despite growing numbers of lynx on the forest.

“Deputy Undersecretary Tenny’s order makes clear that the Bush Administration puts snowmobiles, the ski industry and logging companies ahead of sound land stewardship,” said Jacob Smith, executive director of Center for Native Ecosystems.

A coalition of regional and national conservation groups sent extensive comments (copy available upon request) to officials of the White River National Forest regarding the December 2, 2004 order. Charging that the order puts politics over science, the groups urged the agency to subject the order to a thorough public comment and environmental review process. “This unscientific and blatantly illegal move jeopardizes Colorado’s lynx population – animals the taxpayers have spent millions recovering,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop. “This deal is bad for Colorado’s wildlife and bad for those that value our high quality of life.”

“This is the Bush Administration’s latest volley in the ‘No Lynx Left Alive Initiative’,” said Rob Edward, director of the carnivore restoration program for Sinapu, arguing that Deputy Undersecretary Tenny’s order is part of a larger Bush agenda to roll-back environmental protections. Edward underscored the fact that the order went as far as truncating the public review process mandated for such important policy changes. “The Administration’s order is devoid of science and common-sense. Perhaps that explains why they’ve put it on the fast track – to avoid scrutiny. The lynx can’t speak for themselves in this matter, and the Bush Administration seems to think that nobody else should speak for them either.”

“Colorado has worked hard to recover the lynx, and gutting lynx protection like this is a huge step backward,” said Rocky Smith, Program Director of Colorado Wild’s Forest Watch Campaign.


Wolf talk

Ruling could revive reintroduction discussion

By Rob Gebhart
The Craig Daily Press

A federal judge’s ruling on wolves has put the implementation of the state wolf working group’s management recommendations on hold indefinitely.

Members of the wolf working group say their efforts still were worthwhile, because they’ve developed a foundation for wolf management in Colorado when wolves are removed from the endangered species list.

Environmentalists are celebrating the decision, saying it could pave the way to reintroduce wolves in Colorado.

But representatives from the agriculture industry are concerned that the decision took away some of the tools ranchers could use to deal with wolves that migrate to Colorado.

Last week, Federal District Court Judge Robert Jones vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to downgrade the legal status of gray wolves in the lower 48 states from endangered to threatened. His decision supported the contentions of environmental groups such as Sinapu, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club that Fish and Wildlife had rushed to strip wolves of their legal protections.

The judge’s ruling came one day after the Colorado Division of Wildlife held its first meeting to collect public comments about the working group’s recommendations for managing wolves that migrate to Colorado.

The DOW’s plan was to collect public comments and have the working group reconvene to review comments before the Wildlife Commission decided whether or not to adopt the recommendations. If the commission adopted the recommendations, they would have taken effect when Fish and Wildlife removed gray wolves from the endangered species list.

“Overall, I think it means the plan has even more ultimate importance, because it shows an advance good faith effort to develop support for wolves,” said Rob Edward, director of Boulder-based Sinapu and a member of the wolf working group.

The decision gives Colorado a chance no other state has had, he said. The state can develop a plan for the recovery of wolves.

The working group only discussed how to manage wolves that migrate to the state, though at times group members argued about the role wolf reintroduction should play in the plan. Some group members have offered to reconvene to develop a plan for reintroduction.

Edward said he doesn’t like the situation the judge’s decision has put the state in any more than many ranchers do. By returning the wolf to endangered status, it again is illegal to shoot, harm or harass a wolf. Before the decision, Colorado wolf management operated under the 4d rule, which permitted ranchers to kill wolves that attacked livestock.

“That’s not a situation we want to see persisted for the people of Colorado,” Edward said.

Moffat County resident Jean Stetson served on the working group as a representative of the livestock industry. The ruling “took away tools ranchers had to deal with wolves,” Stetson said.

Ranchers can get that tool back only if the government recovers wolves across their historic range, which includes much of Colorado.

“You’re going to have a hard time convincing any livestock producer that’s a good thing,” Stetson said.

But Edward disagreed.

“We can get to recovery very soon if everybody will just cooperate. There are ways we can do this to meet the needs of everybody at the table,” he said.

Edward thinks wolves could be recovered within 10 years.

The Wildlife Commission still officially opposes wolf reintroduction. Fish and Wildlife has announced it is disappointed in the judge’s ruling.

Book overstates lion dangers

The Daily Camera

By Wendy Keefover-Ring

Part-time Boulder writer David Baron’s Colorado Book Award-winning 2004 book, “The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature” — just released in paperback from W.W. Norton — is being read by a lot of people, and Baron has given numerous media interviews.

Unfortunately, the book has succeeded in unnecessarily frightening the public about the dangers posed by mountain lions. It relies on sloppy methodology, leaps of logic and invented history.

Baron argues that Boulder’s hippie-bred, animal-venerating culture led to an “inevitable” mountain lion attack on 18-year-old Scott Lancaster in Idaho Springs in 1991, because wildlife lovers living in Boulder’s rural-urban interface encouraged deer into their unhunted “gardens.” Baron argues that the “increasing” deer population has attracted lions closer to human habitants and has created cats habituated to humans. In other words, he argues, Boulder’s culture of animal/nature reverence killed Lancaster.

But the book’s fundamental underpinnings are easily contested. First, in Idaho Springs, animal veneration has a different meaning. Bambi is venison, and the Lion King, an ornamental rug. Idaho Springs is the cultural antithesis of Boulder. This fact alone undercuts Baron’s main thesis.

Moreover, Idaho Springs lies 40 air miles away from Boulder. Although a large male mountain lion will have a territory of at least 100 square miles, those mountainous miles are far from linear. California-based lion biologist Dr. Rick Hopkins has shown that a 40-mile radius is equivalent to 5,000 square miles. It is unlikely that a lion living near Boulder traveled to Idaho Springs.

Lions do not predictably habituate to humans, according to a well-respected 2003 study in Southern California, co-conducted by Ken Logan, who is now the lion researcher for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Those biologists documented that lions typically avoid human encounters. Baron’s claims that Boulder’s cat population increased rapidly during the 1980s are based on flimsy anecdotal data. As of this writing, lion biologists have yet to correlate “track counts” with population densities.

Unsound ethical reasoning further compounds the book’s flaws. Baron writes that mountain lions use ritualized murder no different than the Aztecs who “hauled prisoners up high pyramids and cut out their beating hearts as an offering to the sun.” The lion that killed Scott Lancaster, he writes, “hollow(ed him) out” “like a pumpkin,” then “sprinkled (the body with) moss and twigs … as if to signify something profound.” Dramatic, anthropomorphic words that keep the reader turning the pages, yes, but problematic. Ethicists agree that predators do not have murderous intent when they kill — they are simply seeking food.

Baron also makes unsupportable historic claims. He writes that in the late 19th century, Boulder residents participated in a “frenzy” of killing mountain lions. A reasonable statement, given the dominant American ideology prior to 1960, which maintained that mountain lions, bears and wolves were evil and ravenous. But here’s the trouble: Boulder County’s bounty records show only two recorded payments for lion “scalps.” Most of Boulder County’s early records were destroyed in a 1930 fire. Lacking primary evidence, Baron improvises.

In recent radio interviews, Baron has declared that the mountain lion population in the West is on the rise because states have replaced bounties with regulated hunting. Again, no empirical data exist to support this claim, because lions are cryptic and notoriously hard to count. Colorado’s bounty records show that few lions were bountied as compared to hunter kills in the past two decades. While bounty records may or may not reflect true mortality, across the West mountain lion mortality has increased significantly in the past two decades due to trophy hunting. In the early 1980s, hunters in 10 states killed less than 1,500 cats annually. Today, in those same states, more than 3,000 cats are killed annually. Technology — such as off-road vehicles, radio collars for hunting-dog packs and remote communication devices — have accelerated lion hunting. Human hunting pressures can easily overwhelm a cat population.

Baron notes growth and sprawl issues that gobble up and fragment habitat for large mammals, but the discussion is unsatisfying. Large mammals, especially large carnivores, need expansive, intact and connected ecosystems if they are to persist.

Finally, Baron fails to tell us the mountain lions’ own story — one that is likely to be in peril unless we take concerted efforts to conserve them. Absent from Baron’s tale: Few people in the United States have been attacked, much less killed, by lions. Since 1890, only 17 credible human fatalities have occurred as a result of mountain lion attacks. Of that total, only two were killed in Colorado. Yet Baron leads us to believe that lion attacks are inevitable and will increase exponentially, but he misses an opportunity to discuss the impacts of increasing human encroachment on what was once excellent lion habitat. Content to frighten readers with gory details, he fails to tell us how to behave while living or recreating in lion country. People can take common-sense precautions to protect themselves, their children, and their pets; it is our individual and collective responsibility.

David Baron asserts that his book is a “balanced” account, but “The Beast in the Garden” is rife with inaccuracies, inventions and an anti-predator bias, and critical omissions. The book’s anachronistic reasoning returns us to the turn of the 19th century, the time when the dominant American culture — conservationists included — believed that predators were evil.

Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of Sinapu’s Carnivore Protection program, obtained her master’s degree in history from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has been an advocate for mountain lions and other native carnivores for more than a decade.

[Letters to the Editor of the Daily Camera that followed.]

Feb. 10
Beware knee-jerk environmentalism

Wendy Keefover-Ring of the carnivore protection group Sinapu made false and misleading statements about my book, “The Beast in the Garden,” in a recent guest opinion (“Book overstates lion dangers,” Feb. 5). I wish to respond.

Keefover-Ring disputes my contention that mountain lions were widely killed in the Boulder area in the late 1800s, grew scarce in the early 1900s, and returned to abundance by the late 1980s. She calls these “unsupportable historic claims.” Not so.

Anyone serious about the history of Front Range lions can do as I did — go to Norlin Library and read old newspapers on microfilm — and find ample evidence of how locals treated cougars in the 19th century. Here’s a sampling: “A big puma (mountain lion) was strychnined … this side of Sugar Loaf” (Boulder County News, July 17, 1874); “Mountain Lion shot … on the Magnolia mountain” (Boulder County News, Nov. 19, 1875); ” … a young mountain lion, which was killed near Boulder …” (Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 19, 1869); “A mountain lioness … around Longmont … has at last been killed” (Rocky Mountain News, Feb. 9, 1885).

Why do I conclude that Boulder’s lions became scarce by the early 20th century and later rebounded? Brownlee Guyer, the state game warden for Boulder County from 1938 to 1970, knew of just three lion sightings in his district during his three decades on the job; in Boulder County today, it’s not uncommon for the Division of Wildlife to learn of three lion sightings in a week. One can also logically infer that few cougars lived in Boulder County 100 years ago because their primary prey — deer — had been killed off by market hunters. The return of deer since then has allowed lions to return.

This historical fact — that lions have returned to Boulder in recent decades — runs counter to Sinapu’s political agenda, which is to convince the public that cougars are on the decline statewide. Hence the organization’s campaign to denigrate my book.

Keefover-Ring complains of “an anti-predator bias” in “The Beast in the Garden,” yet — despite its focus on a fatal lion attack — the book is not really about the threat posed by cougars (which is, admittedly, minuscule). It is about the danger posed by knee-jerk, simplistic notions of environmentalism that fail to incorporate the role of people in the natural world. The book’s ultimate message is one of environmental stewardship, a message one might expect Sinapu to embrace.


Feb. 14

We don’t know how many there are

David Baron missed the point with his recent rebuttal of Wendy Keefover-Ring’s Feb. 5 critique (“Book overstates lion dangers,” op-ed) of his book “The Beast in the Garden” (Open Forum, Feb. 10).

Although it is worth noting that the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s stated policy toward mountain lions is “suppression” over a large part of our state, Sinapu has never maintained that lions are “on the decline statewide.” Instead, Sinapu’s point is that lion management in Colorado and throughout the West is off-track, and the biggest problem is that we simply don’t know how many lions are out there.

While Sinapu educates the public and pushes the Division of Wildlife to improve its lion-management program, Baron paints an almost Satanic picture of our largest native cat. I’ll opt for education and improved wildlife management over scare tactics any day.


Feb. 22

A good story, but not good science

Apublished book does not a fact make. David Baron, in his book “The Beast in the Garden,” does what any royalty-seeking, well-intentioned writer (with an extensive background, not to mention valuable connections at NPR) would do: Research a fabulous news story, inject a dramatic narrative arc, and then draw conclusions.

The facts about Boulder’s cougars are murky at best, and may be argued ad nauseam. The same goes for Boulder’s cougars 100 years ago (imagine what archivists in 2105 would make of our time if they relied on present-day media headlines to extrapolate historic fact).

But for Baron to brand Wendy Keefover-Ring’s fair questioning (“Book overstates lion dangers,” op-ed, Feb. 5) of his methodology — if one could call it that— “knee-jerk environmentalism” (Open Forum, Feb. 10) ignores that fact that Sinapu, along with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and many other groups, are working to solve the big unknowns regarding Colorado’s cougars. And in the scientific arena — which must stand up to peer review, stakeholder interest and the impact of financial repercussions of animal-related damages on the state’s dime — this means more than just drawing loose conclusions and weaving a good yarn.

Together, and spearheaded by realistic concerns of habitat loss and a growing human impact on the Front Range, these entities have committed millions of dollars to seeking solutions for the long-term survival of this crucial keystone species.

Baron is in the catbird seat. But will his book change policy? Unlikely, given its paucity of scientific rigor and the fact that the DOW has commissioned a decade-long cougar study that will find the elusive beginnings of an answer to the basic questions surrounding the state’s cougar population; they also reduced the cougar kill quota by 30 percent in the fall of 2004.

And will the book make the world a better place? The answer to that one lies in the heart of Baron himself and his readers.

Co-founder, The Cougar Fund
Jackson, Wyo.

Feb. 19, 2005

Fire didn’t destroy all bounty records

I read the Feb. 5 commentary by Wendy Keefover-Ring titled, “Book overstates lion dangers,” regarding David Baron’s book “The Beast in the Garden” and was puzzled by her comments regarding the loss of records in a Boulder Courthouse fire.

In her seventh paragraph, she comments that Baron “makes unsupportable historic claims. … Boulder County’s bounty records show only two recorded payments for lion ‘scalps.’ Most of Boulder County’s early records were destroyed in a 1930 fire. Lacking primary evidence, Baron improvises.”

The Carnegie Branch Library for Local History archive has 69 ledgers from the Boulder County Treasurer’s office, many of which predate the courthouse fire in 1932. Ledger 63 contains accounts and receipts of bounties paid for bears, mountain lions, wolves and coyotes between the dates of 1889 and 1892. It is true that there were just two killings of lions during that time.

Baron may have embellished, but he didn’t need to improvise. He visited our archive to research the material in this volume and other sources we have on the topic.

In addition to the courthouse ledgers, we also have 17 boxes of courthouse records that survived the firs. We are open to the public six days a week to share our primary sources with anyone researching Boulder County history, just as we shared them with David Baron.

Wendy Hall
Carnegie Branch Library

[This letter was submitted but not published.]

As I earlier indicated, in David Baron’s Beast in the Garden he writes, “residents of Boulder and nearby towns enthusiastically participated in the frenzy [of mountain lion] killing” in the late 19th century. His endnote refers us to Colorado’s lion bounty statutes.

Indeed, Colorado maintained a bounty on lions from 1881 to 1965 (but repealed the law briefly between 1885 to 1889). Under state statutes, lion hunters turned in lion “scalps” to the county clerk; they then signed an affidavit declaring the county where the lion was killed. Based on ledgers and these affidavits, county clerks would receive periodic reimbursements from the state treasury.

Wendy Hall, Manager for the Carnegie Library, in her February 19th letter writes that Baron did not “improvise” (my words) because he had “visited our archive to research” his project. I too visited the archive; I even made a copy of the bounty ledger in question. It reveals that Boulder residents killed 296 coyotes, 11 bears, 32 wolves, and 2 mountain lions between 1890 and 1892. (I also learned from Ms. Hall that there may have been other bounty records that were destroyed by fire.) Based on the evidence, one might argue that a “frenzy” of coyote killing occurred in Boulder, but not so for the other species. So I stand by my claim that Baron “improvised” his argument without having primary evidence, and I concur with Ms. Hall that Mr. Baron “embellished” his story.

In his February 10th letter, Mr. Baron notes that he found 4 historic newspaper accounts of mountain lion mortalities between 1896 and 1885. If anyone’s counting, we now have a total of 6 mountain lion mortalities—now do we have a “frenzy”?

I appreciate Mr. Baron’s clarification too that his book isn’t “really about the threat posed by cougars” because I missed that interpretation. I thought the point of the book was about “a tale of politics and history, and ecology gone awry, all come to life in feline form.” I am also glad he illuminated that threats by lions are “admittedly minuscule.”

Wendy Keefover-Ring
Director, Carnivore Protection Program

San Juans ready for arrival of wolves

Local area central to current wolf discussion

by Shawna Bethell

In 1949, four years after the last wolf was eradicated from the southern San Juan Mountains, Aldo Leopold wrote, “Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of the wolf.” In 2005, little has changed in this regard. However, with the knowledge that wolves reintroduced to the northern Rocky Mountain states and New Mexico and Arizona will make their way to Colorado, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) appointed a 14-member Wolf Management Working Group to address the issue of managing wolves. This group, comprised of four livestock producers, four wildlife advocates, two wildlife biologists, two sportsmen, and two local government officials, was asked to put aside personal emotion and work together to create a recommended plan for wolf management in Colorado. To their credit, the members of this group agreed they would utilize consensus in finalizing their recommendations to the state.

Mark Pearson, executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance in Durango, is a member of the working group. “The issue of wolves in the San Juan Mountains is a social one, not a biological one,” he said. “Biologically speaking, if they are not persecuted, wolves will thrive in the San Juans. We have the best habitat and abundant populations of elk and other ungulates.”

Pearson also explained that the San Juans have the largest roadless areas and the largest wilderness areas in the state which will act to keep wolves and people separate. There may be a negative economic impact on a handful of livestock operators who have grazing permits on public lands, and there is a recommendation that proven wolf predations are financially compensated for. But Pearson also pointed out that wolves draw tourist dollars as exemplified in Yellowstone National Park, where tourists come by the thousands just to hear the call of a wolf.

Pearson’s comments somewhat exemplify what has happened and what is happening in the dialogue over this predator’s very existence: a constant tallying of costs and benefits, passions and fears, that has literally been in debate for the greater part of this century. No other predator has been as hated, tortured, mythologized or romanticized as the wolf, and that passion and fury, which was eradicated from this state in the ’40s, is resurging. It is only through a great deal of effort and communication on all parts that the state is being proactive on how to best handle the return of canis lupus.

At this time, the numbers of wolves migrating into the state is thought to be small; in fact the female killed on I-70 in June of 2004 is the only documented wolf sighting in Colorado since the reintroduction. Still, the working group, taking into consideration that over time wolves may naturally recolonize, has recommended that migrating wolves be allowed to “live with no boundaries where they find habitat,” and that “wolf distribution in Colorado will ultimately be defined by the interplay between ecological needs and social tolerance.”

To that end, if problems occur, they will be addressed on a case-by-case basis, utilizing a combination of “management tools” and “damage payments.” The extensive document created by the working group assesses ecological benefits, economic benefits and losses, social and cultural challenges, law enforcement, management tools, and an abundance of other issues. But the politics of wolves is a bit more of a quagmire. The federal government has expressed interest in delisting the wolf from endangered status and hand over wolf management to state jurisdictions. To do that, numbers must increase.

Currently, there is no definite plan to reintroduce wolves to Colorado, but a second team of individuals set up by the Federal Fish and Wildlife Division, with member interests similar to those of the working group, has been convened to look at multi-state regions and consider where wolves could be introduced safely and successfully. According to Michael Robinson, of the Center for Biological Diversity in New Mexico who is also a member of the Recovery Team, the San Juan Mountains are on a short list of possibilities.

“Top-level carnivores are essential to the ecological system,” stated Rob Edward, director of the Carnivore Restoration Program of Sinapu. “What wolves reestablish is the ‘ecology of fear.'” Currently, high density ungulate populations hang out for extended periods of time grazing near waterways, impacting willow and aspen growth. If wolves are part of the ecological system, the ungulates are on the move allowing the flora to regenerate, which in turn allows more forage for beavers, more over story for songbirds, improved water quality and improved fish populations. Wolves are also known to cull ungulate herds of sickly and weak individuals keeping the populations healthy.

“We are lucky,” said Edward. “We have watched other places where this debate has raged, and we can learn from their programs, from their mistakes.”

Duke Phillips, of Chico Basin Ranch located in the San Luis Valley, is also part of the working group, and his dedication to healthy ecosystems is exemplified by his ranch’s implementing such practices as duplicating natural bison grazing patterns. He feels that being part of the group was an opportunity to make contact with people and put an end to bad blood.

“Ranchers already live on the land, and they can play an important role in improving the health of the natural world,” he said. But he also has questions when it comes to the possibility of a full-out reintroduction and how wolves would impact an ecosystem that has evolved without them and how they would live in a system now heavily populated with humans.

Though there has been no official statement from the Southern Ute Tribe on the issue of wolves being allowed to reintegrate or be recovered in the region, Steve Whiteman, director of wildlife management for the Southern Ute tribe, says that as a biologist he doesn’t think attitudes have changed much since wolves were extirpated from the region in the ’40s. “I see the potential if not likelihood of wolves migrating to the area, but I think it will be a challenge for wildlife agencies to see that this succeeds in the Four Corners region,” he said. “They will need to utilize a lot of education and be willing to financially compensate for any livestock killed by wolves.”

As for tribal members, he sees that they may respond similarly to any other group in the region. Some members may, because of cultural beliefs, be gratified to see the wolf return, others with livestock responsibilities may not.

Overall, the population of Colorado does support the idea of wolf populations in the state. In a 1994 statewide survey, 71 percent of respondents said they wished to catch a glimpse of a wolf loping through the mountains. But the Division of Wildlife is not relying solely on those percentages. They are now seeking public comment on the recommendations of the Wolf Management Working Group and tapping the public pulse throughout the state to that end.

Colorado wolf managers divided on rule change

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

A ruling Tuesday by a federal judge that rescinds a Bush administration move to relax protection for wolves was met with mixed reactions from a state panel devising a wolf-management plan for Colorado.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones in Portland, Ore., rescinds a rule change that allowed ranchers to kill wolves on sight when attacking livestock, a key part of the compromise reached by the Colorado panel.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Jean Stetson, a cattle rancher from Craig and one of the livestock producer representatives on the 14-member Wolf Working Group. “It’s very important to many ranchers that they have the ability to protect their livestock and their livelihood. It’s very frustrating.”

The panel hosted a public meeting Tuesday in Grand Junction to discuss the management plan. Six other meetings are set for around the state this month.

The working group, comprised of representatives from livestock producers, conservation and sportsmen groups, local government officials and wildlife biologists, has been meeting since April to develop a management plan. The panel, when presenting its plan last month to the Colorado Wildlife Commission, unanimously agreed that migrating wolves be allowed to establish themselves in Colorado and that ranchers be compensated when a wolf kills livestock.

The wildlife commission changed the state regulation to be in line with a Fish and Wildlife Service ruling from April 2003, that reclassified wolf populations in the East and West as threatened rather than endangered.

But Tuesday the judge ruled that the government acted improperly by combining areas where wolves were doing well, such as Montana, with places where their numbers had not recovered. Wolves in certain parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, where wolves have been reintroduced and are considered experimental, nonessential populations, are not affected by Tuesday’s ruling.

Rob Edward, director of the predator conservation group Sinapu and a member of the wolf working group, said the ruling directs the government to do more to protect wolves.

“But it also begs the question: What now?” Edward said. “It does mean that the group needs to continue to talk and be more creative and do more to get the wolf recovered.”

How the judge’s ruling affects Colorado and the rest of the West is unclear, said Gary Skiba, multi-species conservation coordinator for the Division of Wildlife.

“We don’t know what recovery means anymore,” said Skiba. “We also don’t know when Colorado will get authority to manage its own wolves.”

Fish and Wildlife expressed disappointment in the ruling.

“We believe our rule provided for biologically sound management of the core population of wolves in areas where we knew they could thrive as stable viable populations,” the agency said in a statement. “We also believe the rule was correct as a matter of law under the Endangered Species Act.”

Practically speaking, only wolves in northwestern Montana were affected by the rule change that allowed ranchers to shoot wolves on sight, said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The rule never extended to experimental populations in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho and the rest of Montana, and no packs have been established in other states in the region, Bangs said.

Until last summer, wolves were considered extinct in Colorado, the last reported gray wolf killed by a government trapper in 1943. However, a female wolf from a Yellowstone pack was hit and killed this summer by a vehicle on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs.

Information about the Wolf Management Working Group is available at

Wolves still protected in Colorado


Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP) – A new federal court ruling on the status of gray wolves gives any of the animals wandering into Colorado full protection of the Endangered Species Act, which means ranchers can’t shoot them even if they attack livestock.

The ruling issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones in Portland, Ore., overturned a Bush administration rule that lowered protection for wolves in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes area. The effects, however, will ripple into Colorado, where the state Wildlife Commission recently approved a rule that would have allowed wolves migrating from other states to be shot if they were caught attacking livestock.

The ruling also will likely delay when Colorado gains authority to manage wolves.

A state task force on wolf management was formed last year after a wolf traced to Yellowstone National Park through its radio collar was hit and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 70 in the mountains west of Denver.

Colorado wildlife managers agree it’s just a matter of time until more of the animals roam from the Yellowstone area, where they were restored a decade ago in efforts to rebuild the animal’s numbers.

Wolves were wiped out in Colorado by the 1930s after ranchers, government agents and others shot, trapped and poisoned the predator.

The decision overturning the federal government’s move to reduce the gray wolf’s status from ”endangered” to ”threatened” throws Colorado’s management plans into question.

”What seems to be the clear fallout is that it will take longer for the state to get to manage wolves,” said Gary Skiba, a biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and coordinator of the wolf management task force.

Skiba was in Grand Junction Tuesday as part of a series of open houses on recommendations the task force made to the Wildlife Commission in December. The proposals include leaving migrating wolves alone unless they attack livestock or kill off wildlife and compensating ranchers who lose animals.

The court decision eliminates the division of Colorado into two wolf recovery zones. When it lowered protection for the gray wolf, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said wolves found north of Interstate 70 in Colorado would be considered threatened. To conform with the change, state wildlife managers approved rules in November allowing ranchers to shoot wolves caught attacking livestock.

Wolves south of I-70 still have full protection of the Endangered Species Act, which means they can’t be killed unless they threaten people. The goal is to protect Mexican gray wolves that may migrate from Arizona and New Mexico, where they are being restored and are classified as endangered.

Now, wolves found anywhere in Colorado will have the highest level of protection.

The Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified wolves in the northern Rockies as threatened in 2003 when the number of animals grew to several hundred in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The agency released wolves from Canada in the area in 1995.

Environmentalists who challenged the move argued that the government hasn’t done enough to recover wolves, which are still absent from much of their historic range. The judge ruled that the Interior Department improperly applied the law when it lowered the animal’s protections.

Rob Edward of the Boulder-based environmental group Sinapu said he hopes the court ruling builds momentum for restoring the wolf to Colorado. Edward is a member of the wolf management task force, which has offered to study the prospect of releasing wolves in the state.