Gunnison Stockgrowers raise issues with CPW Draft Wolf Plan, call out absence of required federal authorizations and federal coordination
The Gunnison Stockgrowers’ Association filed a 22-page comment with the Colorado Wildlife Commission detailing the group members’ concerns about the Draft Wolf Plan process laid out by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Ken Spann, who has delivered public comment to the CPW Commission on behalf of the group, said the endorsement of the comments lies in every acre of agricultural land in Gunnison County. The basis of their concerns is the survival of the area’s long standing ranching operations as well as the existing big game and other wildlife in the Gunnison Valley.
According to Spann, established in 1894, the Gunnison Stockgrowers’ Association is an organization long regarded by many as a progressive West-wide leader in integrating high altitude ranching with the needs of the local environment, community, and wildlife. He said in a release the comments note the potential for imminent harm to the Gunnison Basin from the CPW proposals in their present form. A further analysis, he said, of the comments raises the “specter of a CPW process going off the rails without adequate transparency or funding and with the required federal approvals lacking and out of sequence.”
Over 6 weeks in development by a coordinated legal and technical team, the comment document was endorsed by 51 ranches and individuals in the Gunnison Valley representing almost all the working ranch lands in the area. The comments detail major concerns about CPW’s proposal to introduce gray wolves into the “fishbowl” of an already highly coordinated resource management scheme in the Upper Gunnison Valley.
“Since Gunnison valley is the centerpiece of the CPW introduction proposals for 2024, we took a really serious look at the whole process CPW is undertaking,” said GCSA president Hannah Kersting.
Noting that their review of the CPW process is “on-going” and “in-depth”, GCSA’s comments called out several deficiencies in the CPW planning process at the present time.
“If commenters at the hearings are going to be severely limited in both time and number to such strict formats, which has happened at all of the public’s opportunities to testify so far, then we felt compelled to go all in with our concerns in writing,” she said.
Those concerns include CPW’s moving forward:
- without any dedicated funding for the programmatic costs of the wolf introduction and its associated mitigation and depredation costs, and no actual plan for on the ground staffing and operations; and
(2) without a mature Section 10(j) rule under the Endangered Species Act from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to authorize the management of wolves in Colorado and the terms thereunder; and
(3) without any federal NEPA authorization for the use and occupancy of the Federal lands in the area, when Gunnison County is 80% federally owned and the State lands in Gunnison County amount to only 1.1% of the total land area, CPW citing lack of funding and support for the required NEPA analysis; and
(4) without any analysis of potential and likely impacts of wolf introduction upon the threatened Gunnison Sage Grouse and the thousands of acres of private lands, (many of which are held by members of the Stockgrowers in the Gunnison basin) covered by sage grouse Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances and Certificates of Inclusion.
(5) without any acknowledgement of the expensive winter feeding programs to protect and save the Gunnison elk and deer herds through very harsh Gunnison winters undertaken by CPW, Gunnison ranchers, and members of the Gunnison community over the years and the impact introduction of wolves on those steep slopes and in deep snow will have on that investment.
The final public hearing by the Colorado Wildlife Commission on the Draft Wolf Plan is set for Feb. 22, 2023 in Denver.