By DAVE BUCHANAN
The Daily Sentinel
AVON — Jean Stetson already has felt the rake of a wolf’s claws, and the predator officially isn’t even in Colorado.
Stetson, a third-generation rancher from Craig, was one of four livestock producers on the 13-person Wolf Management Working Group that painstakingly hammered out a wolf management plan adopted unanimously Thursday by the Colorado Wildlife Commission.
The panel was composed of ranchers, sportsmen and conservation groups, and Stetson said the group’s decision to allow migrating wolves to come into the state brought howls of protest from the ranching community, some of whom clawed at Stetson and accused her of selling out by signing off on the group decision.
“There are a lot of unhappy people who feel they’re caught in a Catch 22,” Stetson said Thursday. “They thought (with this plan) they could protect their livestock and their livelihood, but now we’re at the mercy of the judges and the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service.”
The state plan allows wolves to migrate into Colorado without being harassed. However, once a wolf gets into trouble, including killing livestock, a quick response is urged. That might not be possible, ranchers fear, in the light of an Oregon judge’s recent decision to return the wolves to endangered status.
Ed Bangs, wolf program coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena, Mont., said the government agency doesn’t hesitate to kill any wolf caught killing livestock.
The plan also seeks a compensation program for ranchers for losses. The compensation must come from funds other than the DOW’s game-cash fund or from license fees.
However, the plan left unanswered what to do about wolves entering the state in packs or the even more sensitive matter of whether Colorado should reintroduce wolves.
Just having a plan is a major step forward in dealing with an endangered species, said Division of Wildlife Director Bruce McCloskey.
“I don’t know if you realize the significance of the vote you just took,” said McCloskey after the commission voted 8-0 for the plan. “It’s a pretty remarkable difference between (Colorado) and other Western states.”
The news was welcome by several conservation groups.
“This decision is remarkable, and it cracks the door for wolves that might wander into the state on their own,” said Rob Edward of Sinapu, also a member of the working group.
What has ranchers riled was the recent ruling in Oregon that said the Service erred in dividing wolves into regional subpopulations and unilaterally deciding that wolves were threatened, not endangered. The judge’s ruling re-established the wolfs’ endangered listing, making it near-impossible for a rancher to protect his livestock from a predating wolf.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has said it will develop some unspecified permit process to allow Colorado to manage wolves, including some take of predating wolves, but McCloskey was skeptical.
“I’d better see that in black and white before I say anything,” he said.
But even allowing a single wolf to enter the state is a bad choice, Stetson said.
“There’s one faction in the state that wants wolves here now,” she said. “We have another faction that says, “Hell no, I’ll shoot everyone I see.”
Although the DOW receives several unverified reports of wolf sightings every year, the only confirmed sighting in 60 years occurred last summer when a female wolf from a pack in Yellowstone National Park was killed on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs.
That puts pressure on the state to be ready to deal with migrating wolves, said working group member Dyanne Singler of the National Wildlife Federation.
“I’m proud of the ranchers, hunters and other conservationists on this group,” Singler said. “Now, this group needs to press on with developing a recovery plan for wolves in Colorado.”
McCloskey said finding money to fund the wolf plan, including keeping the working group together, will be a challenge.
“It’s going to be tough in these days of tight budgets,” McCloskey said. “But it would be good to have something set aside.”