Some ranchers say Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s new wolf hazing rules will not mitigate the impacts that wolves will have on ranching.
The CPW Commission, which sets regulations for the state’s park and wildlife programs, unanimously approved emergency regulations allowing livestock owners to haze gray wolves. But without an option for lethal action, ranchers think wolves will still impact their operations.
“It’s very helpful, but it’s not a solution,” said J. Paul Brown, an Ignacio rancher who runs sheep and cattle. “In the long run, we’re going to have to be able to eliminate those animals that are causing the depredation, because once they start it’ll never stop.”
According to the regulations adopted Wednesday, ranchers and their agents can use a number of techniques to haze gray wolves and protect their livestock and guard animals.
Ranchers can now use rubber buckshot, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, guard animals, ATVs and noisemakers, among other devices, to prevent or limit injury to their animals.
The CPW Commission was already set to vote on the regulations to be implemented in March 2022, but after wolves killed a cow in Jackson County, the commission moved up the timeline and approved the emergency regulations, which went into effect immediately.
The wolf depredation near Walden in north central Colorado marks the first in the state in more than 70 years.
The weekend before the commission adopted the new rules a wolf also killed an 8-year-old border collie in North Park in Jackson County.
While ranchers can now haze wolves, they are unable to take lethal action. Any hazing that injures or kills a wolf is still illegal, according to the new regulations.
For ranchers, the inability to kill wolves that are disrupting or harming their operations is a concern.
“You can scare him away and they’ll be right back,” said Loren Workman, who owns and operates Cross Canyon Ranch in Dove Creek. “Wolves are very smart. They hunt and they’re in packs and they're going to take the easiest prey they can get.”
“I’m not against wolves. I think wolves are fine. But I think we should have the right to kill them if they’re messing with our animals,” Workman said.
Colorado voters approved the Gray Wolf Reintroduction Initiative by a slim margin in 2020. Proposition 114 directed CPW to develop and implement a restoration and management plan for gray wolves west of the continental divide within three years.
CPW must have wolves on the ground by December 2023, Travis Duncan, CPW’s statewide spokesman, said in an email.
CPW established a Stakeholder Advisory Group and Technical Working Group and held statewide public hearings in 2021 to help guide reintroduction.
“Our goal is to provide producers with resources to minimize the likelihood of conflict or depredation (from) these naturally migrating animals, and we work to create a statewide wolf restoration and management program that separately considers all aspects of management for future reintroduction efforts as directed under Proposition 114,” Duncan said in an email.
The CPW commission is not considering other regulations to minimize conflict between ranchers and wolves, though CPW is working on a compensation program for wolf depredation, Duncan said.
CPW currently reimburses livestock owners for animals killed by mountain lions and bears.
CPW expects to present its finalized restoration and protection plan to the commission by late 2022 or early 2023, Duncan said.
The public will have the opportunity to comment on that plan once it is released.
Ranchers have pushed back against Proposition 114, which was bolstered by support from the Front Range.
“I think that it’s a mess,” Workman said. “I think that everybody on the Front Range don’t understand and that’s who votes all this crap in. They don’t even understand where their meat and their products come from.”
CPW has yet to determine where wolves will be released, but ranchers in Southwest Colorado envision wolves will affect their operations.
“They very easily could pose a problem with cattle,” said Davin Montoya, who runs a ranch near Hesperus.
While wolves in Southwest Colorado might seem far-fetched, wolves are habitat generalists, Duncan said.
“They do not have specific habitat requirements that determine where they can live. As long as prey is available, wolves can use a variety of areas,” he said in an email to The Durango Herald.
For ranchers, the new hazing regulations offer little recourse if wolves move to the area and affect their livestock.
Workman wondered why the CPW commission would give ranchers a lethal option for other predators but not wolves.
“If a mountain lion is on our land, we have the right (to kill it) if it’s hurting livestock, so I don’t see what the difference would be,” Workman said. “If they want to introduce them, introduce them, but let us have the right to protect our property.”