Wolf planning amidst degredation, unpaid damage claims
Don Gittleson, the Walden, Colo., rancher most affected by the naturally migrating wolf pack, said he has lost six head of cattle and, thus far, has been paid only for the first heifer lost in December.
The non-lethal hazing methods, he said, aren’t working and the wolves come closer even when range riders are present. Gittleson has spent many a night in his pickup, even chasing and honking to scare a male wolf and pups away from a calf. Even after chasing them off the pair, Gittleson said the wolves were wary of vehicles only for about a month.
“The only thing that makes non-lethal methods work, is when the wolves have a fear of lethal,” he said. “The longer this goes on, the bigger the problem will be. It’ll compound itself and you’re going to have more animals spread out over a larger area that are problem animals.”
Staying awake most of the night, straining to hear a commotion from the cows signaling a problem, he said, isn’t sustainable. He said he can’t afford to keep range riders on the payroll. Their wages are currently paid by wolf advocate groups, though he doesn’t expect that to last much longer.
He said the wolves are losing their fear of humans — and their fladry, range riders, wild burros, lights, cracker shells, and pickups — faster than he thought they might. The last calf the wolves killed, he said, was killed while range riders were present.
To further complicate efforts to keep his cattle alive, Gittleson said the collared female’s collar signal is dead, the male’s collar isn’t working, and the collared pup’s signal lasted only two days. He said it’s likely the collared female is in a den with pups and will be out in the coming weeks. If she is and she raises this litter like the last, he said she will teach them to hunt wildlife in the fall and will teach them to eat cattle by Christmas.
Gittleson said he can’t recall any wolves or other predators that have been allowed to kill this many animals without wildlife officials destroying them, saying he hasn’t lost this many cattle to predators over the course of his lifetime ranching.
“I’d like to tell you there’s a bright outcome, but I’m not sure there is,” he said.
Just days before the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission met to hear the Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan Technical Working Group’s (TWG) final report to Colorado Parks and Wildlife last week, offering the group’s technical recommendations for the process of wolf introduction, Gittleson’s sixth damage claim was filed. Commissioner Marie Haskett of Meeker pointed out that claim and also questioned just how much wolf reintroduction is going to cost the state, and not just claims for damages. CPW said plans for adding staff have not yet been determined.
The TWG is comprised of experts who focus more on the technical aspects of introduction. The second group, whose report will be forthcoming, is the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) which focuses on the social and legal considerations of the efforts.
TWG recommends a phased approach to introduction. Phase 1, which the state is currently in with the naturally migrating wolf pack currently in the state, includes a count of 50 wolves anywhere in Colorado for four successive years. Phase 2, which correlates with State Threatened status, allows for 150 wolves anywhere in the state for two successive years, or a minimum count of 200 wolves without a temporal requirement. At this point, wolves would be delisted from the state list. Once requirements for the initial two phases are met, CPW would consider reclassifying wolves to a game or nongame species. According to the report, the reclassification of gray wolves from nongame to game status would be a phase discretionary to the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, rather than a prescribed phase. Reclassification to game species is not legally required nor discussed by statute and determination of whether to move to game classification should include consideration of social input regarding acceptability of wolf harvest and means of take, demand for population size management, livestock conflicts, impacts on other wildlife populations, other impacts from conflict, and/or demand for harvest opportunity.
The TWG is composed of members who bring experience in wolf reintroduction, wolf management, conflict minimization, depredation compensation, and other relevant topics. Members include Scott Becker, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, regional wolf coordinator; Alan Bittner, Bureau of Land Management, deputy state director; Stewart Breck, National Wildlife Research Center U.S. Department of Agriculture, research wildlife biologist; Roblyn Brown, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, wolf program coordinator; Wayne East, Colorado Department of Agriculture, agricultural/wildlife liaison; Justin Gude, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Research and Technical Services bureau chief; Jonathan Houck, Gunnison County commissioner; Merrit Linke, Grand County commissioner; Steve Lohr, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region Renewable Resources director; Carter Niemeyer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, retired; Martin Lowney, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, state director; Eric Odell, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Species Conservation Program manager; Mike Phillips, Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, Founder/Turner Endangered Species Fund, executive director; John Sanderson, Colorado State University Center for Collaborative Conservation, director; Doug Smith, National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park, senior wildlife biologist; Robin Young, Colorado State University Extension Service, Archuleta County Extension, director, Natural Resources and Agricultural Agent.
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