Monthly Archives: October 2005

Activists call for stop to poisonings

City trying to control prairie dog migration

By Alisha Jeter, Broomfield Enterprise Staff Writer

Two Broomfield wildlife activists are calling for a stop to a city policy of poisoning prairie dogs on the Lac Amora open space.

The city has for the past three years exterminated prairie dogs that cross the border into the Lac Amora open space from the adjacent Rock Creek Open Space, owned by Boulder County. Boulder County put up a fence to keep the crossings from happening but it doesn’t contain all of the animals, city officials said. The city hires exterminators to kill errant prairie dogs two or three times a year.

In the most recent case last week, about 100 prairie dogs were killed after residents complained the animals were overrunning trails and coming into conflict with dogs in the area, said Kristan Pritz, director of Broomfield Open Space and Trails. Some also said prairie dogs were burrowing too close to their homes and yards, she said.

The city’s prairie dog policy, adopted by City Council in May 2003, allows the city to use poison to kill prairie dogs that have come too close to homes, Pritz said.

“What we try to do to guide our actions is use this policy that was adopted by this community,” Pritz said, adding the policy wasn’t meant to please everyone but to achieve a balance between maintaining wildlife and private property rights.

But activists and longtime Broomfield residents Judy Enderle and Wendy Keefover-Ring want an emergency moratorium on using poison to control the borders between the two open space areas. Enderle, of Prairie Preservation Alliance, and Keefover-Ring, of Sinapu, wrote a letter calling for the moratorium to City Council and other city leaders following the latest eradication.

“The policy of exterminating native wildlife in Broomfield open space is troubling,” the two wrote. “As public officials, you have a public trust obligation to protect native wildlife for all Broomfield citizens.”

Enderle earlier this week said she disagrees the city is within its policy.

“It seems like they’re not following their own plan. It seems like they just leaped to poisonings,” she said.

The prairie dog policy calls for officials to first try to relocate prairie dogs to designated sites — but the city ran out of room with a relocation earlier this year from Broomfield County Commons open space, which took the last 50 slots at a site near Great Western Reservoir. The policy also allows for removal to a raptor feeding program. Extermination is allowed in emergency situations, such as the animals nearing homes, Pritz said.

The city needs to put up notices of when it conducts the poisonings, which isn’t happening now, said Mayor Pro Tem Clark Griep, who represents the district in which Lac Amora open space is located.

“We definitely need to take a look at what’s going on there,” he said. “I’d say the one thing we need to do is find another place for us to put prairie dogs when they need to be pulled out of an area.”

Specifically, the city needs to identify new relocation land in potential open space areas it wants to buy, Griep said.

Second Lynx collar found: Officials fear both cats shot

Herald Staff Report

For the second time in two days, a radio-telemetry collar apparently cut from a lynx has been found in Southwest Colorado, this time on Missionary Ridge just north of Durango.

Wildlife officials speculate that someone shot the female lynx. Deer and elk hunting seasons are now in progress. No evidence of lynx remains was found.

Tanya Shenk, the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s lead lynx researcher, said the lynx, released in 2004, had given birth to three kittens in May or June 2005. Without their mother, the kittens will die, she said.

“They are just too young to make it on their own,” Shenk said.

Officials from the Colorado Division of Wildlife found the collar Thursday after it transmitted a signal the animal had died. The collar was found in snow near Missionary Ridge, about 20 miles northeast of Durango.

Another collar, also cut from a lynx, was dropped into a slot at the Silverton post office on Tuesday, about 20 miles from where the other collar was found. No other information was provided. Wildlife officials are concerned that lynx also was killed illegally. That collar was removed from a male lynx born in Southwest Colorado in 2004. The cat had been trapped and collared by the DOW last winter.

“It’s hard to say whether the two cases are connected. But we are investigating. It looks a little suspicious,” said Joe Lewandowski of the Durango DOW office.

Nine conservation groups have said they will pay $4,400 for information that leads to a conviction in the death of the animals.

“If this does indicate poaching and thoughtless behavior by some individuals, it puts the return of lynx at risk,” said Mark Pearson, executive director of Durango-based San Juan Citizens Alliance.

Conservation groups in Colorado have worked hard to ensure that the state has a healthy lynx population, said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu.

“We’re disappointed that these rogue individuals are acting so irresponsibly,”she said.

The lynx is an endangered species in Colorado and is protected as a threatened species by federal law. Lewandowski said lynx pelts and taxidermy-prepared mounted lynx are sold illegally throughout the United States.

The DOW is tracking 110 lynx that have been fitted with radio collars. Since the lynx reintroduction program started in 1999, the DOW has released 204 lynx and has recorded 101 kittens born in Colorado. Of the 204, 66 have died, with eight confirmed shooting-related deaths.

9 Conservation Groups Contribute $4,400 to Lynx Poaching Fund

For Immediate Release: October 28, 2005

CONTACTS:
WENDY KEEFOVER-RING, SINAPU, 303.447.8655, EXT. 1#
JACOB SMITH, CENTER FOR NATIVE ECOSYSTEMS, 303.810.6017
MARK PEARSON, SAN JUAN CITIZENS ALLIANCE, 970.259.3583
SLOAN SHOEMAKER, WILDERNESS WORKSHOP, 970.963.3977
SANDY SHEA, HIGH COUNTRY CITIZENS’ ALLIANCE, 970.963.3977
RYAN BIDWELL, COLORADO WILD, 970.385.9833
MONIQUE DIGIOGIO, SOUTHERN ROCKIES ECOSYSTEM PROJECT, 303.913.4234
JUDY ENDERLE, PRAIRIE PRESERVATION ALLIANCE, 303.466.6879
EVA SARGEANT, DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE, 520.623.9653, Ext. 4

CO—Yesterday, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) revealed that someone likely poached a lynx and put its radio tracking collar in a post office mail box in Silverton. A second lynx collar was found today near Missionary Ridge, thus marring an otherwise successful lynx reintroduction program.

As a result, nine conservation groups – Sinapu, Center for Native Ecosystems, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Wilderness Workshop, High Country Citizens’ Alliance, Colorado Wild, Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, Defenders of Wildlife, and Prairie Preservation – announced that they will contribute another $4,400 to the DOW’s lynx reward.

The reward is being offered for information that leads to the conviction of a person charged with the crime of killing a lynx, a species listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

Since 1999, 204 Canadian-born lynx have been released into the Colorado wild. The Division of Wildlife has monitored many of those animals. Since 1999, 72 Colorado-released lynx have died, some prematurely from human causes: 8 were poached, 6 probably shot, 9 hit by vehicles, and 2 likely hit by vehicles.

“Citizen groups have been invaluable to the process of getting lynx on the ground in Colorado,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu. “We led a number of grassroots campaigns, one to ensure that the Wildlife Commission allowed population augmentations and others to ensure that their habitat is conserved for the long term.”

“By adding to the reward fund, we hope we can help DOW protect lynx across the state,” said Jacob Smith, of Center for Native Ecosytems. “Coloradans will not tolerate poaching of our native wildlife.”

“We are glad to welcome lynx back to the San Juans, and we want to make sure they thrive and survive. Sadly, their main threats come from humans,” said Mark Pearson of San Juan Citizens Alliance.

“The lynx reintroduction program has been one of Colorado’s great conservation successes,” said the Wilderness Workshop’s Sloan Shoemaker. “If these rare animals are being poached, we want to nip it in the bud ASAP.”

###

Green Groups Bear Burden of Bruin-Puma Education in Boulder

For Immediate Release: 10/12/05

Contact:
Morgan Crowley, Director
Diego Villalobos, Assistant Director
CU Wildlife Initiative
303.492.5024 (Office)
720.365.0806 (Morgan’s Cell)

Wendy Keefover-Ring,
Director, Carnivore Protection Program
Sinapu
303.447.8655, Ext 1#

Boulder, CO. This Fall, the student-based CU Wildlife Initiative led efforts to distribute 1,500 educational flyers about wildlife in Boulder. CU Wildlife Initiative, student volunteers, Sinapu, and the Sierra Club passed out “bear aware” and mountain lion “co-existence” flyers to people’s doorsteps and at public events in Boulder County. The Sugarloaf community also printed the groups’ bear aware flyer in their newsletter.

“Our mission was two-fold,” said Morgan Crowley, Director of CU Wildlife Initiative. “We aimed to get students involved in local wildlife issues and we wanted to give people important informational tips about co-existing with black bears and mountain lions. An educated public will result in far fewer human-wildlife conflicts.”

“At this time of the year, black bears need to pack on enormous fat reserves,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu. “Garbage, bird food, dog food, and barbeque grills are attractive food sources for black bears, which have a keen sense of smell. Bruins need to eat abundant calories now, before they hibernate, if they are to make it through the winter.”

“Keeping bears out of garbage is important,” added Diego Villalobos, “because once they learn a food source, they’ll exploit it in the future, even if there are natural foods available. Also, mother bears must not teach their cubs bad habits, because if a bear is caught a second time getting into garbage, the Division of Wildlife may have to destroy that animal.”

The groups also distributed a companion flyer on living and recreating safely in lion country. The educational flyer highlights common sense tips, such as 1) planting native foliage around your home to avoid attracting deer or other prey into one’s neighborhood, which can attract mountain lions, 2) hiking in groups rather than solo, especially at dawn and dusk when lions are most active, and 3) hiking with dogs on a leash.

View the bear flyerView the puma flyer

# # #

Study seeks management answers

By Julie Marshall
The Denver Post

A new 10-year study by the Colorado Division of Wildlife should help take away much of the guesswork in managing mountain lions.

The state’s newly hired carnivore researcher, Ken Logan, is capturing and placing radio collars on cougars in the southern half of the Uncompahgre Plateau as part of Colorado’s first major study of the cats in 20 years.

“Once we have a better idea if cougars are increasing, stable or declining, we’ll have a better idea how to manage them,” Logan said.

Ideally, he will provide a way to better estimate numbers or trends within the other management units of the state. Each unit could have its own population objective and hunting quota.

“I think the extent to which we believe there are too few, too many or just the right number will depend on the perception of citizens and local areas,” he said.

Logan also wants to gauge the impact of sport hunting on lion populations to see if it is an effective means of control – or if reproduction overrides it.

In the near-term, Logan says the greatest impact on lions is hunters – an average of 375 cougars are killed in the state each year. In the long term, he says, it is habitat loss and conflict with people.

The solution is a “managed coexistence.”

“Colorado is at the forefront of mountain lion management in the West; we are definitely headed down the right path,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Boulder-based Sinapu – an advocacy group for the preservation of predators. “We might become the gold standard.”

But there is one important step along the way, Keefover- Ring said, specifically regarding orphans.

Females are the “biological bank account” that ensures conservation of the species, she explained, but hunters are taking too many withdrawals.

Out of about 3,700 cats killed by hunters in the past 10 years, 45 percent were females. Scientists estimate that up to 56 percent of females killed probably are mothers with dependent kittens.

Research by Colorado biologists shows that when kittens are orphaned at 6 months, they have less than a 5 percent chance of survival. Life is difficult enough for kittens who are not orphaned. Scientists say half of them don’t survive past their first year.

Sinapu is spearheading a petition asking the state Wildlife Commission to set a new limit on sport hunting of adult females.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Outfitters Association, a hunting advocacy group, is petitioning the state for a mandatory certification course that would teach rules, ethics, biology and the natural history of lions in order to stave off a potential hunting ban.

Chairman Tom Mikesell has said that the state is experiencing “an exponential increase” in local and out-of-state lion hunters using dogs, creating crowded and hazardous conditions.

Mikesell says it is imperative hunters know gender and age before deciding to shoot.

“We owe it to all Coloradans and to the resource to take action to improve the education and raise the standards for Colorado’s lion hunters,” he told state officials.

Back to the Wild

Three cougar kittens get human help to survive. Their story sheds light on the cats’ status in Colorado and efforts to manage them.

By Julie Marshall
The Denver Post

Silt

The mountain lion kitten’s ears were flat against its head, black tips pointed down, twitching with every sound, from a bird’s chirping to a sudden wind blowing tall grass. The dark blue eyes scanned the landscape with a look of fear and worry.

Its nose crinkled and whiskers stiffened as it hissed at the person just beyond the 12-by-12-foot enclosure at a wildlife rehabilitation center west of Glenwood Springs.

“Boy, he hates us,” said director Nanci Limbach, adding that the reaction is a good sign for the animal’s ultimate survival.

As a licensed rehabilitator with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Limbach cares for injured and orphaned bears and mountain lions, the state’s top predators.

Last spring, her nonprofit center took in three mountain lion kittens, each about 6 months old. Limbach and others struggled to balance caring for the animals while maintaining their wild nature so they could be returned to the high country.

VIDEO
View the release of two cougars by the Department of Wildlife. Flash video (2:08)

Managing mountain lions in this way is controversial.

Some people see cougars as a threat to livestock and the safety of the increasing number of people and pets who live in mountain-lion country. Others embrace them as a unique part of Rocky Mountain wildlife.

Hunted to extinction in large portions of the United States, viable mountain lion populations no longer exist east of the Mississippi River, with the exception of about 50 endangered panthers in Florida. There are an estimated 3,000 to 7,000 of the cats in Colorado.

District ranger Kirk Oldham said protecting mountain lions has the same priority as providing for moose that people like to photograph, elk for people to hunt, or chorus frogs that people enjoy listening to on their back porch.

“Some may grab the attention more than others in the public eye, but they are all important,” he said. “We don’t pick and choose only the wildlife that some people like.”

In bad shape as kittens

Caretakers of the three kittens at the Colorado Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center allowed a reporter to closely monitor their progress over a six-month period.

One was the lone survivor from a scrawny group discovered in February in the foothills near Boulder. Another, starving and injured in scraps with a porcupine and a dog, was found near the ranching community of Meeker. The third was barely able to move when she was discovered in March alongside a mountain road in Basalt.

Weeks after arriving, the mountain lions had made progress. They had received medical attention – surgery to remove an embedded tooth for one, antibiotics and tick removal for another – and they didn’t smell “skunky” anymore, said veterinary technician Penny Gentile.

Human contact was kept to a minimum.

“We do as little as we have to, and we try not to be out there a lot, except to feed,” Gentile said.

All three kittens received nutritional supplements, an injection to kill worms, blood tests and X-rays. The kitten found near Basalt was infested with ticks and had chewed her tail, affecting her ability to balance.

Limbach put the animal’s chances for survival at 50 percent.

The kittens must be strong enough to survive in the wild on their own. Too weak to chew, the kitten found near Basalt started on soft cat food and graduating to licking cubes of meat. The one discovered in the foothills behind Boulder ate just about anything from the start and figured out what to do with a clucking chicken.

“Now that his instinct to kill has kicked in, nothing lives long inside that cage,” Limbach said.

Mountain lions need meat, as well as bone and hair for digestion, and the kittens each consumed 5 to 10 pounds of meat a day. The facility has a freezer with 3,700 pounds of donated elk and deer.

The animals also needed living food as a part of the rehabilitation process, Limbach said, but she doesn’t raise it.

Friends trap mice; neighbors offer fowl and other small animals that would be killed anyway. Limbach also has standing roadkill orders placed with law enforcement and other groups that patrol the roads.

“We get a lot from Highway 13 as you head to Meeker,” she said.

Eventually, the kittens would need to be fit enough to bring down a live deer.

Plans for freedom

Limbach wanted to release all three kittens at the same time, same location.

“It’s more natural than separating everyone in strange territory,” she said.

In the wild, kittens separate from their mothers between 11 and 18 months, then stick together a few weeks or months before going solo. Limbach wanted to set paws on the ground well before November hunting season and heavy snowfall so the kittens could learn the terrain and more readily find prey.

To protect people and give them the best survival odds, the animals wouldn’t be released where they were found.

“Boulder is a pretty wildlife- friendly community, and people are knowledgeable as a group … but release is not possible because of the number of people there,” wildlife manager John Koehler said.

Residents who built homes or moved into the burgeoning Basalt area are not as comfortable with cougars in their yards. Many are former urbanites who call District Wildlife Manager Kelly Wood in a panic.

“They want me to come get rid of them,” she said, “and we’re at 7,900 feet. They didn’t want me to kill them, but where exactly do they want me to take them?”

It’s a different story in Meeker, where sheep ranchers and predators go together like the Gulf Coast and hurricanes.

Generations there have spent their lives with predators and tend to take care of situations themselves, said Barry Dupire, district wildlife manager in Meeker.

Not so little anymore

By late June, the kittens weren’t requiring much attention, except for a squirt from the hose during a spate of sweltering days.

The cat found near Boulder was clearly in charge. If he hissed, the others hissed. When he growled, the others backed off – especially the tailless, underweight cat found near Basalt.

“She’s low on the totem pole,” Limbach said.

Limbach noticed another change as well. Weighing between 25 and 30 pounds when they arrived, the cats had doubled in size.

“Suddenly, these are not babies,” she said. “We have full- fledged, self-assured cats. All three of them will walk out, looking at us like, ‘We all can kill you. Do you have any clue?”‘

By mid-July, the lanky adolescents were ready to move to a taller enclosure with dens and raised platforms that would test their agility and allow climbing and jumping.

After the move, Limbach and volunteer Natalie Hert returned to investigate the smaller, empty cage.

On the floor was a pile of white feathers and a deer leg with sparse tufts of fuzz and one tiny black hoof.

Limbach glanced at Hert.

“Scary, isn’t it?”

A perfect new home

As summer days turned toward fall, wildlife manager Oldham found suitable land for the cats’ release in Middle Park. Deer herds are abundant there year-round and there is plenty of water and no hint of urban life.

The male cats – the dark brown spots of youth having faded within golden fur – stand a good chance at making it, Limbach said.

But the cat found near Basalt won’t be released. She needs more time to build strength in her hindquarters. Limbach is confident she will be released in the spring.

On a cool fall morning, two release boxes were placed on the flatbed of a truck, covered in shade tarps.

Inside, the lions were eerily quiet. Their ears had been tagged to ID them in the event they one day reappear as hunters’ quarry or turn up dead from some other cause. They had not been tranquilized.

“We always want them to go out under their own power,” Oldham said.

After a bumpy ride along a dirt trail that wound through mountains of shimmering gold aspen, the truck stopped at a vista above 9,000 feet.

The heavy plywood and aluminum boxes were lowered to the grass. Sliding panel doors faced toward a dense forest.

Oldham joined Limbach and volunteer Hert opposite the doors, while two colleagues stood in the back of the truck, shotguns ready. Their weapons were loaded with rubber buckshot – a bit of stinging incentive for the lions to flee.

The doors slid open.

Nothing.

“They’re asleep,” Limbach joked.

Hert drummed a steady beat on top of one box and gave it a kick. The lion found near Boulder bolted from inside.

Shotgun blasts sent him scurrying to the top of a nearby hill.

The other cat hadn’t budged.

Oldham tilted the box to the side and out it went, pausing briefly on the hillside before running off in the same direction as the other cat.

Limbach grinned over two less mouths to feed.

She worried, however, as she always does, whether the cougars would survive.

“It would be nice to know they made it through the winter,” Limbach said, looking off into the distance.

Ideally, she said, she would like to know that they thrived for at least a couple of years – long enough to father a new generation.

Ringed by Wolves


By DEB ACORD – THE GAZETTE (Colorado Springs)

In wild areas to the north and to the south of Colorado, the sound of howling wolves pierces the night air. Wolves haven’t moved into Colorado yet, but they are making plenty of noise here already.

Wolves, gone from the mountains and valleys of Colorado for most of a century, are the subject of intensive studies of wildlife management, court cases and debates among such diverse groups as environmentalists and ranchers. And they are the stars of a symposium that runs through Tuesday at the Antlers Hilton in Colorado Springs.

“Frontiers of Wolf Recovery” is the title of the fourth international wolf conference, sponsored by the International Wolf Center in collaboration with Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

The conference seeks to raise awareness of wolves and their place in the natural environment, said Walter Medwid, executive director of the sponsoring organization that is based in Minnesota.

“This is a great way to raise the subject of wolf recovery,” he said. “And this is a great place to do it. Colorado is at the forefront of wolf recovery right now. This conference is a way to elevate understanding of what it may mean to have wolves back on the Colorado landscape.”

Right now, Colorado is caught in the middle.

Reintroduced wolves are thriving and forming packs to the north, in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, states that have a population of more than 900, and to the southwest, in Arizona and New Mexico, where an estimated 50 Mexican gray wolves live. Most wildlife experts say if those populations continue to grow, wolves will return to Colorado one day. But when? And how will Coloradans respond?

Hunted, harassed and pushed out by settlement, wolves vanished from the Colorado landscape more than 60 years ago. By the time they were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, they were gone from the lower 48 states, except for a few hundred that remained in a corner of Minnesota.

So Colorado wildlife officials haven’t had to talk about wolves for decades. That changed in 2004. In April of that year, the Colorado Division of Wildlife assembled the Wolf Management Working Group, a diverse mix of wolf advocates, wildlife biologists, sportsmen, scientists and government officials. The group was formed to prepare for any future wolf migrations into Colorado.

Two months later, that possibility became a reality, when a a wolf wandered onto Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs and was struck and killed by a car. She was wearing a collar that linked her to the wolf restoration project in Yellowstone National Park, and had traveled about 500 miles from her pack.

“After she was discovered, we knew there was the potential that we would be managing wolves in Colorado north of I-70,” said group coordinator Gary Skiba, a DOW biologist who works out of Durango.

“We thought that within not too long a time, we would have to figure out what to do with a dispersing (wandering) population of wolves in this state.”

The public often reports wolf sightings to the DOW, Skiba said. Wolf hybrids — dogs bred with wolves — roam the state, along with large coyotes and dogs that look like wolves. “So it’s really difficult to take a sighting and determine that it really was a wolf,” he said. The wolf that was killed was easy to identify because of her collar.

So the group assembled by the DOW began to talk: What are the next steps? How should wolves be classified? Should they be reintroduced formally? Under what guidelines?

Group members knew there were four major areas of concern among Colorado residents, Skiba said. “The largest is the wolf’s impact on livestock. There are concerns about impacts on big-game populations. People are also concerned about human safety and about the safety of their pets.”

Thomas Compton doesn’t see a state overrun by wolves, but he doesn’t see any way to manage wolves here that won’t threaten livestock.

Compton has been a commercial cattle producer for 25 years in southwest Colorado, is past president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, and worked on the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team that has restored wolves to eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.

Compton says he surprised some members of the cattlemen’s group when he joined wolf-recovery talks. “I thought if there were discussions going on, it would be good to let other people know our concerns.”

Wolf biologists and advocates of reintroduction point to the benefits of bringing wolves back into ecosystems where they had been banished. Studies of places such as Yellowstone show wolves can bring back an ecological balance.

Wolves prey on overpopulated elk and deer that in some places have been stripping the forests and meadows clean — peeling bark from aspen trees, munching willows and other smaller vegetation down to the ground. When the browser populations are reduced, beavers return to the re-grown willows and build dams. Trees grow around newly formed ponds, cooling the water so it is more attractive to trout. A new, healthy riparian area appears.

That scenario appeals to Mike Bond, who was asked to join the Wolf Working Group to represent hunters.

Bond lives in Roxborough and has been hunting around the world for decades. He admits that when he joined the group, he had decided that wolf reintroduction was “not a good idea. We already had problems with our deer populations and our elk populations in some areas. I thought the wolves would take what was left.”

Bond soon changed his mind. “I like the idea of wolves being back in Colorado. They were here before I was, and I see them as part of the total wildlife package here.”

Bond said there’s another reason he believes wolves would be good for Colorado. “The problem of chronic wasting disease was what made me change my mind,” he said.

The disease (a fatal, transmissible neurological disease found in deer and elk and most recently in a moose) is a significant concern among wildlife biologists.

“I’ve hunted all over the world, and I can see no better way to deal with it than introducing a predator that will cull out the weakest and sickest,” Bond said.

That innate behavior of wolves — choosing the easiest prey — is just what worries rancher Compton. “Wolves will go after the weakest in a herd of cattle. That’s often calves, and that has a serious economic impact on a rancher.”

Several environmental groups have offered to reimburse a rancher if a wolf takes a cow or a calf.

“But that falls way short of the economic loss a rancher experiences,” Compton said. “You aren’t just losing the market value of that animal, but also opportunity costs — the amount of money you’ve invested in a gene pool. You also lose in terms of increased costs of managing your cattle differently. There’s also emotional stress added to a ranch family’s life.”

For some ranchers, sharing the land with wolves might be too much of a burden, Compton believes.

“I can practically guarantee that there will be some, especially older guys like myself who are near retirement . . . they are going to say, that in terms of quality of life, maybe I’ll just give it up and do something different.”

That thought troubles Compton, who says longtime ranchers are tied to the land “in an emotional, even spiritual way.”

“You have to spend some time out there seeing the baby calves drop to the ground to understand. There was a song a few years ago, something about people who had ‘never seen the Northern Lights or the hawk on the wing’. . . most people don’t understand the strong connection we have with the land.”

That connection is also why many Colorado residents would like to share their land with wolves. Several polls have shown that the majority of residents would like to see wolves return.

“People identify wolves with wilderness,” said Rob Edward, restoration program director for Sinapu, a nonprofit group dedicated to the restoration of native carnivores and their habitat.

“Our organization grew out of a sense that we need to have wolves restored to the landscape,” he said. “Because of their charismatic nature, they are kind of a flagship to the movement to protect wildlife and wild places in the West.”

Edward believes wolves could fit relatively seamlessly in the environment of Colorado. “We have places in Colorado, places that are relatively unroaded and remote, where wolves could be placed,” he said.

Reintroduction is among the most contentious subjects being addressed at the wolf conference.

“It’s fair to say that wolves test our tolerance of wild nature,” Medwid said. “We can recover other species — bald eagles and peregrine falcons and so on — but they don’t generally get in one’s face like wolves. Wolves do get in our face. We know what they can do to livestock, to domestic pets.”

But there’s a strong argument for reintroduction, Medwid said. “I think in some sense, it’s about symbolically repairing the damage and heavy-footedness we have had on the landscape.”

While the experts talk, wolves are doing what wolves do, living in highly organized packs that were reintroduced in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona. Biologists and wildlife managers believe they will eventually make their way back to Colorado. It could take years, decades, or even a century.

“I think the potential for a natural colonization from the north is entirely reasonable,” Medwid said. “We know that wolves can travel hundreds of miles, and there is an inherent pressure within the pack society for young ones to be forced out. The more they are forced out, the more potential there is for travel, finding a good habitat, avoiding human contact and finding a mate.

“That’s the biological imperative that’s a part of wolf genetics.”

But the West has changed a lot since wolves roamed the Rocky Mountains. The land between Greater Yellowstone and northern Colorado, for example, is harsh, with little cover and lots of roads and livestock, Medwid said.

“Colorado has potential for wolves, but today’s issues and population challenge us to figure out a way to live with these creatures that is positive.”

WOLVES TO THE NORTH

Northern Rocky Mountain wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf, traveled from Canada in the early 1980s and began recolonizing northwest Montana. Formal wolf reintroduction programs began in Montana, central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in 1995.

Since that time, populations there and in Idaho and Wyoming have increased steadily.

The wolf population in those three states is estimated to be about 900.

WOLVES TO THE SOUTH

Mexican gray wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf, have been released in the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona. The program began in 1998.

The wolves are allowed to disperse in the Apache National Forest and adjacent Gila National Forest in western New Mexico. The wolves are part of a captive-reared and release program that places wolves raised in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries in the wild.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of the zoos with a captive-breeding programs for these wolves.

The wolf population in those two states is estimated to be about 50 to 60.