CPW draft wolf management plan mirrors TWG and SAG recommendations
The draft of the Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan was presented to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission on Friday, Dec. 12, 2022. The 293-page document was authored by CPW staff with input from the Stakeholder Advisory Group and Technical Working Group. As of Feb. 10, 2022, wolves in the state are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as endangered and this plan does not replace a federal recovery plan.
According to the draft plan, livestock producers experiencing losses due to wolves, two options for compensation are offered and while it is encouraged, conflict minimization techniques are not required for compensation.
The draft plan also allows for lethal control of depredating wolves by livestock producers but not as a first line of defense, only by permitted landowners, and must be reported to CPW for investigation.
The draft management plan adheres to the SAG’s recommendations to offer compensation options to livestock producers who experience losses, both direct and indirect. According to the draft, CPW’s wolf-livestock compensation program provides 100 percent fair market value (FMV) compensation, up to a maximum of $8,000 per animal, for the confirmed death or injury of livestock (cattle, horses, mules, burros, sheep, lambs, swine, llama, alpaca, and goats, and guard/herding animals). Conflict minimization techniques are not required to be eligible for compensation; however, CPW will work with livestock producers to implement conflict minimization to reduce the risk of further depredations. Veterinarian costs for the treatment of livestock and guard/herding animals that have been injured as a result of wolves will be compensated up to the FMV of the animal. If the animal receiving veterinarian care dies due to an injury inflicted by wolves, compensation will be limited to the animal’s FMV, not to exceed the $8,000 per head limit.
Commissioner Dallas May addressed the Commission and communicated that the $8,000/head compensation limit is too low for valuable seedstock animals, horses, and other valuable livestock. He said FMV for many animals far exceeds the $8,000 limit. He also pointed out that the draft does not address carcass management of depredated animals and the cost of carcass management will be shouldered by the livestock producer and must be included in the plan.
Commissioner Marie Haskett questioned the lack of mention of yearlings. She also pointed out the requirement that livestock eligible for compensation must be on the “same private parcel of land where the confirmed depredation event occurred.” Haskett said many livestock producers graze public lands and the draft must reflect this.
Once a confirmed livestock depredation event occurs, which is compensated at 100% FMV up to $8,000, livestock owners may either apply for missing calf/sheep losses through a basic compensation ratio (i.e., number of calves or sheep compensated per confirmed depredation) or apply for itemized production losses (i.e., missing calves or sheep, decreased weaning weights, conception rates and additional losses on a case-by-case basis) by providing specific baseline documentation. This allows livestock owners to choose whether to pursue a more simplified process versus one that will require additional documentation to support their claim. It would also allow livestock owners who sustain damage amounts greater than is covered by the compensation ratio to seek production loss compensation based on documentation they provide as part of the claim. For each claim submitted, the livestock owner has the option to choose between the simple compensation ratio or itemization but may not do both. Claimant producers bear the burden of proof.
Temporary conflict minimization materials, such as turbo fladry and scare devices, will be provided to livestock owners on a case-by-case basis and CPW may evaluate the risks to livestock when providing these materials. Temporary conflict minimization materials will be loaned to livestock owners and such materials will be delivered by CPW with instructions on their use and installation.
Option 1, Basic Compensation Ratio:
Due to the nature of wolf-livestock depredations in areas where topography and vegetation would create difficulties in finding livestock carcasses, CPW’s compensation plan will allow livestock owners to be compensated for missing calves and all classes of sheep via a simple compensation ratio after or concurrent with a confirmed wolf-livestock interaction resulting in livestock injury or death. In this plan, a compensation ratio recognizes that for every confirmed wolf depredation, it is possible that up to seven additional calves or sheep could be missing as a result of wolves and not be found by a livestock owner. For livestock owners who choose the basic compensation ratio option (this option is only applicable for calves and all classes of sheep) the following apply: Missing livestock claimed for compensation ratio must be sheep or calves; other livestock herding, and guard animals do not qualify for compensation ratio; missing calves and sheep can be claimed if two conditions are met: livestock owners must have a confirmed depredation event (injury or death) due to wolves to qualify for the compensation ratio and missing animals must be from the same band or flock of sheep, herd of cattle, or same private parcel of land where the confirmed depredation event occurred. For each damage claim submitted, a livestock owner must have at least one confirmed depredation event; the livestock owner must reasonably believe that livestock reported as missing were lost to wolves and not to other predators (i.e., bears, lions or coyotes), disease, or other factors; livestock owner is eligible to receive 100 percent FMV compensation for the confirmed calf that was depredated and 100 percent FMV compensation for the three claimed missing calves; 100 percent FMV X 4 = compensation amount. Under no circumstances can the number of missing calves/sheep claimed for compensation exceed the actual number of documented livestock missing. CPW investigators will consider the role of topography/vegetation in determining eligibility for missing livestock. In general, the compensation ratios will only apply in larger, open range grazing situations where locating carcasses is more difficult due to geographic and topographic factors.
Conflict minimization techniques are not a requirement for damage compensation. However, a two-tiered compensation ratio for missing calves and sheep incentivizes the use of conflict minimization, with the higher tier (up to seven missing animals may be claimed for every one confirmed wolf depredation: a 7:1 ratio) applied when a livestock owner uses conflict minimization techniques and the lower tier (up to five missing animals may be claimed for every one confirmed wolf depredation: a 5:1 ratio) if conflict minimization techniques/methods are not used. Any livestock owner claiming eligibility for the 7:1 ratio will bear the burden of proving that conflict minimization techniques are implemented.
If the landowner does use conflict minimization techniques, they are eligible for the confirmed calf, plus the seven missing calves. If the landowner does not use conflict minimization techniques, they are eligible for the confirmed calf plus five of the seven missing calves. Conflict minimization techniques/methods include, but are not limited to guard/herding dogs, sheepherders/range riders, fladry, carcass management, and other lawful gray wolf hazing techniques. Compensation ratios described above are also designed to account for some indirect production losses that could be incurred.
Option 2, Itemized Production Losses:
Economic losses other than direct loss of animals and missing livestock can impact livestock owners. These production losses could include decreased weight gains, decreased conception rates and other indirect losses. For livestock owners who have had a confirmed wolf livestock interaction resulting in livestock injury or death, and choose to itemize production losses, the following apply: livestock owners must have a confirmed depredation event due to wolves to qualify for itemized production losses and missing livestock; missing animals must be from the same band or flock of sheep, herd of cattle, or same private parcel of land where the confirmed depredation event occurred; for each damage claim submitted, a livestock owner must have at least one confirmed depredation event. Livestock, herding, and guard animals are eligible for compensation at 100 percent FMV after confirmation; eligibility for missing livestock is limited to all classes of sheep and calves; the livestock owner must reasonably believe that missing livestock reported were lost to wolves and not to other predators (i.e., bears, lions or coyotes), disease, or other factors (and can be documented as missing by the livestock owner). Under no circumstances can the number of missing livestock claimed for compensation exceed the actual number of documented livestock missing. CPW staff will consider the role of topography/vegetation in determining eligibility for missing calves and sheep. In general, missing livestock can only be claimed in larger, open range grazing situations where locating carcasses is more difficult due to environmental factors. As in the first option, conflict minimization techniques are not a requirement for missing livestock or itemized production losses.
For missing calves and all classes of sheep, a livestock owner must submit the following information, included but not limited to tangible evidence (photos, scat, tracks, etc.) that wolves were present in the area where livestock are missing; baseline death loss (predators, poisoning, disease, etc.) with percentages over a minimum of three years (preceding wolf presence in the area) using production records; records for the current year that demonstrate vaccination status. Written records to justify current year losses will be provided to CPW with the following information: the number of livestock at the beginning and at the end of the grazing season; the number of animals that died as a result of other predators, disease, or other factors during the grazing season. Eligibility for missing sheep and calves is limited to losses above the previous three-year baseline death loss and cannot exceed the actual number of documented livestock missing. Livestock owners who cannot provide this written documentation described above are not eligible to claim missing animals under Option 2. For decreased weight gains (only applicable for sheep and cattle), a livestock owner must submit the following information, including, but not limited to baseline weights over a minimum of three years (pre-wolf presence) along with current year weights (i.e., weight tickets, production records or sales records). To qualify, documentation must show that weights of cattle or sheep have decreased below the pre-wolf three-year average weights. Livestock owners must provide documentation for average three-year (pre-wolves) weights to qualify for decreased weight gains. For decreased conception rates, a livestock owner must submit baseline conception rates over a minimum of three years (pre-wolf presence) along with current year rates; a written report/statement from a certified veterinarian with body condition scores and pregnancy rate information of livestock and a statement affirming no known issues existed; documentation must show a decrease in annual conception rates below the pre-wolf average three-year rate to qualify for decreased conception rate compensation; livestock owners must provide documentation for average three-year (pre-wolves) conception rates to qualify for conception rate losses. Additional losses can be considered on a case-by-case basis by CPW and CPW will consider the role of drought and other environmental factors when evaluating context specific eligibility.
Commissioner Duke Phillips expressed his concerns as well, echoing the commissioners’ concerns that the $8,000 limit is too low. He also asked that the exclusion of yearling compensation be reconsidered; said the three-year records requirement would be impossible for beginning producers and/or new ranch owners or lessees; and asked staff to offer an additional option to the requirement of a letter from a veterinarian with regard to decreased pregnancy rates. Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg echoed Phillips’ concerns.
At CPW’s request, USFWS has embarked on a rulemaking process designed to provide management flexibility by designating Colorado’s wolves as an experimental population under section 10(j) of the federal Endangered Species Act. USFWS anticipates that the resulting 10(j) rule will take effect prior to the reintroduction of wolves into the state, as was done when wolves were reintroduced into the NRM in the mid-1990s. The 10(j) rule provides management flexibility that is a critical component to the success of this plan and on which other components of the plan depend. Following reintroduction, some forms of aversive conditioning and lethal take to protect human safety, to reduce livestock depredation, or to mitigate risks of substantial effects on ungulates will be necessary management tools. These management options are limited, however, while the gray wolf is listed as endangered or threatened under state or federal law. If the legal status of Colorado wolves changes, including the anticipated adoption by USFWS of a 10(j) rule to direct management of wolves in the state, CPW expects to have increased management flexibility, including authority to lethally remove wolves for management purposes consistent with this plan. Additional regulatory changes will likely be necessary to provide mechanisms to resolve depredation of livestock by wolves as well as to mitigate for other possible conflicts. It is the duty of the commissioner of agriculture to control depredating animals in the state of Colorado to reduce economic losses to agricultural products or resources. To fulfill this duty, the commissioner may adopt rules for the control of depredating animals, in consultation with the Parks and Wildlife Commission; establish lethal and nonlethal methods of controlling depredating animals; and allow state employees and owners of agricultural products or resources and their families and employees to control depredating animals.
If wolves are observed in the act of biting, wounding, grasping or killing livestock, or are observed in the act of chasing livestock, this management approach provides livestock owners with tools to respond, should the situation occur. For this impact, management options include non-injurious, conflict minimization techniques, or potentially injurious hazing techniques. Nonlethal tools should be explored and encouraged before lethal tools are used. Lethal management should not generally be a first line of defense. A permit is required for private landowners and their agents in advance in Phases 1 and 2 to provide for lethal control of wolves caught in the act of biting, wounding, grasping, or killing livestock or working dogs. Such scenarios where lethal control is implemented must be reported to CPW within 24 hours and will be expeditiously investigated.
A preponderance of evidence, including dead or injured livestock or working dogs, or other physical evidence should be present, which would lead a reasonable person to believe that a depredating wolf or wolves were involved, or that a wolf attack on livestock or dogs was occurring or imminent. In Phases 1 and 2, a limited duration permit for lethal take may be issued to a livestock owner or agent of the livestock owner on private or public land. A permit is required under state.
Non-lethal conflict mitigation measures will be considered prior to issuance of any lethal take permit. In Phase 3, the same permitting requirements exist. Further coordination with Colorado Department of Agriculture will be required as well per statute.
Management actions following confirmed depredation by wolves include education, both non-injurious and potentially injurious hazing as described above, and lethal control. The translocation of depredating wolves to a different part of the state will not be considered, as this is viewed as translocating the problem along with the wolves. The lethal control of chronically depredating wolves following depredation events will be conducted by state or federal agents (consistent with applicable law) if determined to be appropriate, after an evaluation of the circumstances, in all phases.
Limited duration permits for lethal take may be issued to livestock owners or agents on public or private land after evaluation of circumstances, as described above. These permits will only be issued if state or federal agencies do not have the capacity to implement on-the-ground lethal control actions themselves. This action requires reporting and an investigation that demonstrates evidence that justifies the act.
There is not a specific definition of a “chronically depredating” pack or wolf. CPW program managers will make the determination as to whether a situation is characterized as chronic depredation on a case-by-case basis. A full evaluation of the circumstances will include considerations such as documented repeated depredation and harassment in a limited geography caused by wolves caused by the wolf or pack targeted; previously implemented practices to reduce depredation; likelihood that additional and continued wolf related mortality would continue if control is or is not implemented; and unintentional or intentional use of attractants that may be luring or baiting wolves to the location. Lethal control in defense of human life is allowed under both state and federal law. Lethal control of wolves in the act or having recently attacked a pet or hunting dog is not allowed in any phase. Removal of wolves denning within municipal boundaries, or a high-density population area must be conducted either by state or federal agents. Take, both lethal and non-lethal, by state and federal agents is allowed for scientific purposes; to avoid human conflict; to relocate a wolf to enhance survival and recovery prospects; to aid or euthanize sick or injured wolves; to salvage dead specimens; to aid in law enforcement investigations involving wolves; and to manage wolves with abnormal physical or behavioral characteristics.
REINTRODUCTION AND RELEASE SITES
Based on the TWG recommendations, CPW will aim to capture 10-15 wild wolves annually from several different packs over the course of three to five years by trapping, darting or net gunning in the fall and winter. These captures may be done by agency staff, contractors, or private trappers. The total number of wolves relocated in any year and in total will depend on capture success, continued participation by the cooperating states, and the degree to which relocated animals remain in Colorado and survive. Pre-relocation animal processing will include a general health assessment by veterinarians and biologists to determine suitability for translocation. They will assess body condition, estimate age and condition of teeth, examine for injuries, and survey for ectoparasites. Criteria for rejection include excessive tooth wear, multiple missing or broken teeth, emaciation, heavy ectoparasite loads, foot anomalies, fractures, and other signs of disease or injuries of concern as determined by the veterinarian. Some tooth wear is normal and missing incisors are not uncommon or cause for rejection. Animals cleared for translocation will be treated for endo- and ectoparasites and vaccinated for canid diseases of concern. Biologic samples, including blood, feces, and genetic material, will be collected for additional health screening and sample banking. All age classes, except young of the year, are acceptable for translocation. Equal numbers of each sex are desirable.
Wolves will be fitted with GPS collars that include supplemental VHF capability. Collars will contain a mortality sensor and will be programmed to collect at least one location per day that will transmit regularly via satellite interface. This will allow quick investigation of mortalities and could provide valuable information for improving program protocols. The collars will be the primary means for monitoring individual wolves post-release. Location data is not immediately available from these collars, it is subject to satellite download frequencies, and it should be expected that there may be several days, sometimes greater from when the animal was at the location and the data are available. All wolves to be translocated will be transported to western Colorado release sites by vehicle or aircraft in the most expedient and efficient manner. All efforts will be made to minimize the time that animals are kept in a holding crate or temporary pen. Immediately prior to transport, wolves will receive a final visual inspection by personnel trained to evaluate animal condition. Animal condition will be evaluated periodically during transport. Signs that animals are experiencing high stress during transportation will compel review of protocol and may lead to modifications of transport crates or other aspects that could help reduce transport stress. In the case of animals that incur severe injuries or health issues during capture or transport that are likely to result in long-term pain or suffering or the inability to hunt and survive after release, the animal will be humanely euthanized under veterinary guidance (Underwood and Anthony 2020). Release Locations A number of factors have been considered in determining the most suitable and promising release sites, beginning with the need to relocate wolves into suitable habitat.
According to the draft and in alignment with a 60-mile buffer from state borders and tribal lands (which is a reduction from the SAG recommended 75-mile buffer from tribal lands), two large areas become apparent for consideration as wintertime release sites in western Colorado. The northern area is along the I-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Vail, and extends down the Roaring Fork Valley. The second, southern area is along the Highway 50 corridor between Monarch Pass (east of Gunnison) and Montrose. Based on the on-going evaluation of geographic mandates and constraints, relative conflict risk, and ecological suitability, and barring the need to alter this plan, release sites will be chosen from within these identified north and south areas.
Releases in the first year will occur in the northern area only. Subsequent release sites will be considered based on the efficacy of the initial release, but will be located within or near the identified north and south areas. Releases will occur on state or private lands. The plan does not currently contemplate releases on federal lands because CPW does not have the staffing or financial resources to undertake the required National Environmental Policy Act analysis prior to any federal land management agency authorizing releases on federal lands. CPW will attempt to select release areas that are likely to promote successful wolf recolonization, while also considering the potential for livestock or human conflicts. Specific release locations will not be made public in this Plan in order to protect private landowner information and sensitive species locations, but targeted outreach will occur with potentially affected stakeholders prior to release.
Upon arrival in Colorado, animals will be immediately released in areas identified as suitable habitat west of the Continental Divide. This is commonly referred to as a “hard release,” in contrast to a “soft release,” in which wolves are kept in pens at the release site for an extended period of time. No supplemental food or care will be provided once the wolves are released. After the release of 30-50 animals over the three to five year timeframe, active reintroduction will stop, and post- release monitoring will apprise managers if the effort to establish a self-sustaining wolf population in Colorado has been successful.