Monthly Archives: July 2005


Denver—Conservation Groups who were victorious in a nationwide lawsuit demanding the Bush Administration uphold the Endangered Species Act as it applies to wolves delivered a letter to Bruce McCloskey, Director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife in support for their efforts to develop a management plan for wolves in Colorado. A copy of the letter (PDF format) may be downloaded by clicking here.

The letter urges McCloskey to capitalize on the previous success of his agency. “The Colorado Wolf Working Group has surprisingly produced a useful guide for the management of wolves that happen to cross the border,” commented Tina Arapkiles, of the Sierra Club. “Now they have the opportunity to move beyond the hypothetical to develop a plan for reintroduction of this important endangered species.”

Kimberly Riggs, Executive Director of Sinapu, a carnivore conservation organization added, “Colorado has been a leader in the West. Thanks to the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the hard work of concerned citizens, we now have a growing population of Canada lynx in the state. We’d like to see the Division of Wildlife take a leadership role on wolf issues as well.”

The letter states, “Over the past 12 months, Colorado has shown the rest of the nation that the subject of wolf restoration need not be cloaked in bitter division. Citizens of Colorado have expressed surprise and optimism over the ability of the Working Group to cooperatively forge a management plan for wolves.”

“The point of the letter to Mr. McCloskey is simply to say: Coloradoans can solve issues by sitting around the table with reasonable people. We do not have to wait for resolution of environmental issues in the courts,” Ms. Arapkiles noted.

The Working Group will meet in early August to discuss the future, if any, of the Group.




Danger to “Threatened” Wildlife Species, Children,
and Non-Target Wildlife


Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan for killing wildlife that prey on livestock in Colorado is a dangerous and misguided, according to public comments released today by a coalition of environmental groups. The USDA is planning to spend at least $1 million in Colorado in the coming year to “manage” over 3,000 coyotes, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and foxes and other native carnivores for the benefit of the livestock industry.

The USDA plan for “Predator Damage Management in Colorado” would be administered by one of its bureaus called Wildlife Services. According to the environmental coalition, the predator plan for Colorado has serious drawbacks, including—

1. Inadequate mitigation measures to protect lynx and wolves and other species of special concern;

2. Wildlife Services’ failure to analyze impacts from their program to migratory birds (such as raptors including California condors, bald and golden eagles) and grasslands species (including prairie dogs, burrowing owls, and mountain plovers);

3. Excessive loss of so called “non-target” wildlife from indiscriminate lethal control methods including poisons, traps, and aerial gunning; and

4. Inadequate safeguards against children and household pets being accidentally poisoned by sodium cyanide baits aimed at luring canids.

“We had hoped that the new Wildlife Services’ plan would begin to place some emphasis on employing more non-lethal controls, especially now that lynx and wolves have begun to return to the state,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of the carnivore protection program for Sinapu. “Wildlife Services would better serve the public and the livestock industry if the agency put significant revenues into educating people, rather than killing wildlife.”

The coalition also argues that the plan is based on faulty biological premises about native carnivores. The groups further contend that USDA is ignoring non-lethal means of predator management, such as using fences, electronic devices, and guard animals that are more cost-effective and less destructive than killing thousands of carnivores annually, or endangering people with poisons and airborne hunting campaigns.

“Colorado provides essential breeding habitat for mountain plovers, ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, and other birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Dr. Lauren McCain of Forest Guardians. “Grassland birds are in trouble throughout their range, and Wildlife Services is putting these animals—who are vulnerable to secondary poisoning—in harms way.”

The USDA Wildlife Services program is extended at no or nominal charge to livestock growers who complain of livestock losses, which are minimal. Livestock operators lose many times more cattle and sheep to weather, disease, and birthing problems in comparison to predation, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). In Colorado, only 13.3% of sheep and 3.3% of lambs (NASS, May 2000), and .9% of cattle and 5.8% of calves (NASS, March 1997) are killed by native wildlife.

“These numbers could be reduced significantly through responsible animal husbandry practices,” said Keefover-Ring.

“Using non-lethal controls would also prevent unintended mishaps with the public,” added Chandra Rosenthal of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “In Colorado, family pets have died from sodium cyanide, and in one instance, a child was potentially exposed to this toxic agent, which resulted in a lawsuit and a $10,000 settlement agreement paid by the USDA.”

The coalition of commenting organizations consists of Sinapu, Forest Guardians, Center for Native Ecosystems, and PEER.


Read the environmental coalition’s critique of the federal
predator plan for Colorado CO EA.pdf

Wolves Are Coming To Colorado; the Question Is, When?

By Elizabeth Covington
The Telluride Watch

“We are ground zero,” said Sinapu board member Mark O’Dell, a Mountain Village resident who recently held a get-together to discuss the idea of reintroducing wolves to the San Juan mountains. “Several criteria that look at where best to reintroduce wolves make us a critical starting place.”

As to when those wolves might be reintroduced, “we are very early in the timeline,” he said. O’Dell held the meeting partly because he thought residents of the Telluride area would be natural supporters of wolf reintroduction.

“The concept of that element of wildness would be exciting for Telluride,” he said. “If they are around, people will see them and hear them.” Wolves are not reclusive like mountain lions and bear. Moreover, “wolves have been an economic boon for Yellowstone. People go to see them.”

Indeed, wolf reintroduction programs in Yellowstone Park and in areas of Montana and Idaho have been successful on several fronts. Reintroduced wolves have established themselves in packs; programs have been established to compensate ranchers for lost livestock; and the wolves in Yellowstone have even become a key tourist attraction, with visitors stopping at strategic viewpoints to watch packs in the wild.

The program in the northern Rockies has been so successful that many experts believe the wolves are likely to migrate south through Wyoming and into Colorado. In fact, one year ago a female wolf was killed on Interstate-70 near Idaho Springs. Her presence confirmed what Sinapu, a non profit organization dedicated to the restoration and protection of native carnivores in the southern Rockies, and other reintroduction promoters had been saying all along: Wolves are on their way to Colorado.

The wolf killed on I-70 spurred Governor Bill Owens to form the Colorado Wolf Working Group, a committee of 14 people that includes ranchers, environmentalists and others, to discuss what Colorado should do when wolves do arrive in the state. The group’s recommendation that wolves should be welcome in the state was a significant reversal of the long-standing state policy of extermination.

The working group also recommended that any negative impacts that might be caused by the presence of wolves be dealt with as they arise. Another recommendation suggested setting up a fund to reimburse ranchers for animals killed by the animals. While not perfect, programs for compensating ranchers for lost livestock have worked in the northern states.

The migration and establishment of wolf packs in Colorado could take up to 50 years, said Gary Wockner, a wildlife ecologist who is a member of the state board. Thus, the question arises of whether to actively reintroduce the animals.

While there have been no documented cases of a wolf attacking a human being, said O’Dell, the concern for safety is still prominent.

“It is more dangerous to walk past a pit bull tied up on the main street sidewalk,” said O’Dell.

According to Wockner, wolves could, and likely will, migrate to Colorado. In addition to wolves reintroduced in the northern Rockies, a smaller group was reintroduced in the Southern Rockies of Arizona and New Mexico. Those wolves have already migrated to Utah and Oregon, and they are likely to move into Colorado. In fact, it is likely that a few already have.

Wockner listed three reasons in support of reintroducing wolves, one being aesthetic. Many people consider wolves beautiful and want to see them returned to the spectrum of wildlife in the area. Second, wolves have a positive ecological effect on the landscape. Elk and deer, wolves’ primary food source, tend to stay in one place when they have no predators and eat vegetation to the point where grass and willows are denuded. Wolves could help keep them on the move, preventing such damage to vegetation.

In Yellowstone, three years after wolves were reintroduced, scientists noticed that bare riparian areas were coming back to life. Willows, and even aspen trees that had been chewed to the ground, were once again thriving.

Finally, the state and federal governments have acts that protect threatened and endangered species.

“Those regulations write into law that we as humans don’t have the right to exterminate other species,” said Wockner. “Wolves fall into that category.”

While currently there are no plans for reintroducing wolves to Colorado, in the next few years it is foreseeable that one could develop.

“Wolves are an extremely political animal,” said Wockner. “In order for them to be reintroduced you would have to have a realignment of the political world, one that is more in favor of environmental restoration. The other alternative is for the citizens of Colorado to demand that reintroduction happen.”

That last factor may be the straw that tips the balance.

According to O’Dell a recent statewide survey indicated that over 70 percent of Colorado residents supported the concept of reintroducing wolves.

“That is really promising,” he said.

Telluride region is ideal for the reintroduction of wolves

By Elizabeth Heerwagen
Telluride Daily Planet

While the first efforts to reintroduce wolves to the lower 48 began 10 years ago in Yellowstone National Park, the steady success of the newly added carnivores, still thriving and reproducing in their Northern Wyoming habitat, has sparked further efforts to reintroduce wolves to other parts of the Rocky Mountains, especially the mountain regions surrounding Telluride.

Leading the charge, Sinapu, a Colorado-based grassroots wildlife organization dedicated to the restoration and protection of native carnivores in their wild habitat in the Southern Rockies, held a power point presentation, catered dinner and fundraiser at the Telluride Conference Center on Wednesday, June 22. In an effort to raise public awareness and gain support, Sinapu stressed the essential importance of reintroducing wolves to an appropriate habitat, much like the existing habitat of the San Juan Mountains.

While Sinapu began its campaign in the early 90s, local resident Mark O’Dell joined the effort and became a board member a few months ago. According to O’Dell, “I’m the guy trying to get things started in Telluride. I think Telluride is the perfect place with the perfect people for this project. We sell this place as a wild place, and what’s more wild than wolves?”

Not only are wolves a majestic and wild species, but “they are so necessary around here,” according to O’Dell. “If you look at the trees in Aldasoro, they are all black because there are too many elk and deer plopping down for too long by the streams and eating up all the vegetation. In the winter months, when food is sparse, the elks eat the bark and shoots of aspen trees, which not only hurts the trees, but does little for the elk’s diet.”

A misrepresented species, wrongfully persecuted in the 1920s due to a supposed threat to livestock and humans alike, there has never been a documented report of a [healthy, wild] wolf [killing] a human [in North America]. Largely responsible for the extinction of wolves in the lower 48, the government launched a program to terminate the species in 1914. Laying out rings of poison for every 10 miles, it took them 25 years to finish off the wolves as well as poison several other species in the process. The last report of a wolf in Rockies was in 1947.

Now, with an over-abundance of elk and deer leading to the destruction of the shoots of aspen trees and the surge of chronic wasting disease, a close relative to mad cow disease, the reintroduction of wolves is more important than ever before.

According to O’Dell, “wolves not only keep herds of deer moving in natural progression and help control mule deer population, but wolves help round out the whole habitat.”

From their obvious role as carnivores to their indirect role of helping the progression of other species like aspen trees and songbirds, wolves are now welcome in Colorado. “As one of the few states to allow wolves with a whole set of operating rules to get them through the front door, the next step is the actual plans for reintroduction,” said O’Dell.

Proving their resilience and ability to thrive in the Rocky Mountain habitat, the Yellowstone wolves have sparked several studies related to finding other potential sites for wolf reintroduction. From a survey of the best possible wolf habitats in the lower 48, the San Juan Mountains ranked as one of the best two pods.

“The bottom line is that we spent the last 10 years building the scientific underpinnings for the reintroduction of wolves, which concluded that the [Southern] Rockies is the best possible place for wolves in the lower north America,” said Rob Edward, Carnivore Restoration Program Director for Sinapu.

Unlike lynx, an environmentally temperamental species, wolves are quite hearty, adapting well to sudden changes in habitat. Eating almost anything from elk to rodents, wolves learn to thrive in the most adverse situation. “What we really need to do now is to get the wolves on the ground, all they need is a ride and they will do well,” said Edward.

While the actual placing of wolves back in the environment is a fairly simple process, the challenge comes in getting the government’s approval to do so.

According to Edward, “the public has been squarely behind the program, but we now must mobilize that soft support and translate it into political action … the bottom line is that if we had the approval we could have wolves there tomorrow, but with the current federal administration who is not particularly environmentally-supportive, the likelihood of success is pretty low.”

Biding time and waiting for a more environmentally-friendly administration, Sinapu continues to draw public support and advocacy in hopes that the government will eventually be forced to respond to the popular uprising of wolf huggers.

According to a local wolf hugger helping to propagate the necessity of reintroducing wolves to the region, O’Dell said that “we are sitting right in the middle of something that could be very important, it’s time to bring [wolves] back here and listen to them howling at night … God put the wolf here and the government took it away, whose side are you on?”

Record 46 kittens, family ties show lynx taking hold



Colorado’s transplanted lynx are multiplying like the rabbits they love to eat.

A record 46 kittens were born this spring to the endangered cats that the Colorado Division of Wildlife has reintroduced to the mountains of southern Colorado during the past six years.

The births suggest the lynx again are taking root in a state they once called home.

“This is exceeding our expectations,” Wildlife Division spokesman Joe Lewandowski said Tuesday.

More exciting than the numbers is the observation that many of the lynx are establishing family relationships and a stable social structure, said Tanya Shenk, the division’s lead lynx researcher.

Some mothers are having their second and third litters with the same mate and raising them to adulthood, she said.

“We’re not just seeing kittens born; we’re seeing them survive to independence,” she said.

Still, Lewandowski said, the agency isn’t ready to declare the program a complete suc- cess.

“They probably won’t say that for three to five more years,” he said.

The lynx was thought to be extinct in Colorado by the 1970s. In 1999, the DOW began a $2.5 million effort to restore the species. The animals are trapped in Canada and released in the San Juan Mountains near Creede, where the snowshoe hare — the mainstay of their diet — abounds.

The program’s first year was dismal; 26 of the first 41 lynx died, some of starvation.

The division quickly changed its methods, holding the lynx at a wildlife rehabilitation center for several weeks to fatten them up instead of releasing them immediately.

The mortality rate dropped sharply. In 2003, five died; in 2004, seven died. Some were hit by cars, and others were shot or killed by other animals.

Although many remain in the San Juans near their release site, others have migrated to New Mexico, the Collegiate Peaks and the New York Range near Eagle.

Tracked via radio collars, some have wandered into Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana, Lewandowski said.

Since the program began, the division has released 204 lynx; 63 have died. From 1999 to 2004, a total of 101 kittens were born.

More than 46 kittens may have been born this year, but researchers couldn’t find them because some of the adult lynx have shed the radio collars that enable the DOW to track them.

This spring, researchers found 16 litters — 21 females and 25 males, Shenk said.

She remains cautious.

“You can have a run of good years,” she said. “Maybe we haven’t had a bad year yet.”

Although researchers are pleased, they know the program has not reached a critical milestone — when kittens born in Colorado have kittens of their own. Lynx can reach sexual maturity when they’re 18 months old, but that also can take three years.

The kittens born this spring all were born to transplants from Canada. That will be the real proof of success, said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, a Boulder-based environmental group. She praised this year’s count as evidence of “a tremendous success story.” To ensure that the lynx continue to thrive, she said state officials must protect their habitat.

This year, state officials are lobbying the federal government to ease restrictions on construction and logging designed to protect lynx habitat.

At a lynx release in April, Division of Wildlife Director Bruce McCloskey said the goal was to see whether lynx could survive under today’s conditions, not the Colorado of 100 years ago.

Those restrictions should not be lifted, Keefover-Ring said. “If there’s no habitat, we won’t have lynx,” she said.

Talk at environmental center will focus on mountain lions

Mary Jean Porter

The cat with many names will be the subject of a program at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mountain Park Environmental Center in Beulah.

Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu in Boulder will talk about mountain lions in the West. The big cats commonly are known as pumas, cougars or panthers and they evoke strong emotions – negative or positive – in many people.

Mountain lions are shy and unsocial by nature and prefer rugged terrain that is suitable for ambushing their large prey such as mule deer and elk. They require large habitats because they eat only meat and their food supply is dispersed over long distances. According to Sinapu, a Boulder-based carnivore-protection group, a male lion requires at least 100 square miles of habitat in the arid West.

A female mountain lion spends about 70 percent of her lifetime raising young, which can be born at any time of year but usually in the summer or fall. Kittens are totally dependent on their mothers for the first nine months and typically spend between 11 and 16 months learning survival skills from their mothers.

Mountain lions are subjected to what Sinapu characterizes as liberal hunting practices in most western states, and lion deaths from sport hunters increased about four-fold from the early 1980s to the early part of this century in 10 western states, according to the organization. Recreation, livestock protection, ungulate augmentation and human safety are reasons cited for the hunting policies.

Common-sense precautions such as traveling in groups while engaging in recreation in lion country can eliminate potential human-lion conflicts. Such precautions and the skills to successfully coexist with the large native carnivores will be discussed at the Thursday program. The natural history of mountain lions and how Colorado and other western states manage their lion populations also will be covered.

More information about Sinapu is available on the Web at . Its name is the Ute word for wolves, and its mission is the restoration and protection of native carnivores and their wild habitat in the Southern Rockies and adjoining high plains and deserts.

The Mountain Park Environmental Center is located in Pueblo Mountain Park in Beulah. For more information, call 485-4444.