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Colorado seeks comment on wolf management plan

Colorado’s newly minted wolf management plan is out for public review, with comments accepted over the next month. Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently unveiled its proposed plan for managing wolves once they are restored to Colorado later this year.

Colorado voters in 2020 established a new state policy with respect to wolves, and directed state wildlife managers to create a plan for the reintroduction of wolves by the end of 2023, and for the subsequent management of those wolves. The popular vote reversed a wildlife policy adopted more than a century ago during an era of settlement and development that called for the extermination of native wildlife like wolves that might pose impediments to ranching.

Changing public values resulted in the new policy direction in 2020 to restore and recover one of the state’s missing wildlife species, the gray wolf.

CPW convened advisory panels to provide recommendations for the management plan. A Stakeholder Advisory Group met for over a year and brought together wolf advocates, ranching industry representatives, guides and outfitters, and others with diverse perspectives. Similarly, a Technical Advisory Group consisting of wildlife biologists with expertise in wolf management across North America provided its expert input.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is hosting public discussions about the plan over the next month. The nearest public meeting is in Gunnison, and one meeting will provide for online opportunities for public input.

Colorado’s plan incorporates the experience of wolf managers in other states, but with attributes specifically relevant to Colorado’s circumstances. A primary focus is preventing conflict between wolves and livestock, with a robust financial compensation plan if wolf depredation does occur.

One area in which Colorado could strengthen the plan is to expand its focus on prevention. The voter initiative required a plan to compensate for livestock losses attributed to wolves, and the wolf management plan describes a generous and comprehensive approach. The management plan however lacks a similarly robust approach to prevention. The plan could be improved to better incentivize prevention over compensation to the maximum extent possible.

Colorado’s wolf management is paid for with general fund dollars. There is no connection with or reliance on hunting and fishing license fees, which removes concerns by some in the hunting community about funding nongame wildlife management with hunting fees. Some wolf advocates are supporting new funding mechanisms to generate dollars specifically for conflict prevention and hope to see that incorporated into the plan.

The plan provides for the eventuality that some depredation of livestock might occur that requires lethal control by killing and removing offending wolves. The plan should make every effort to avoid that circumstance.

The voter initiative that approved wolf restoration identified wolves as a nongame species, and along with their presently endangered status, it means a public hunting season is off the table. The state’s management plan should highlight the fact that a recreational wolf hunting season is not contemplated.

At some point, wolves will be deemed recovered once the population reaches an appropriate threshold. The management plan identifies 150 to 200 wolves as its target, but some biologists view breeding pairs as a better indicator of genetic diversity and suggest 50 breeding pairs statewide as a more realistic threshold.

Colorado’s identified locations for wolf reintroduction are limited to areas west of the Continental Divide, and 60 miles from state lines. The result is two priority zones for reintroduction – one in the Gunnison Basin, and the other along the Glenwood Springs to Vail corridor.

The schedule of public meetings and the portal for submitting public comment is at https://engagecpw.org/draft-wolf-plan-comments.

Mark Pearson is executive director of San Juan Citizens Alliance. Reach him at mark@sanjuancitizens.org.