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Colorado tweaks wolf reintroduction plan after public hearings

A gray wolf lies in dry yellow grass with ears perked up.
John and Karen Hollingsworth
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is eyeing an area near Vail and Glenwood Springs to start releasing grey wolves next winter as part of a reintroduction effort.

Colorado’s wolf reintroduction plan is getting some tweaks after feedback from hundreds of residents during public hearings last month. Namely, the Parks and Wildlife Commission has agreed to nearly double the maximum amount the state will pay ranchers if wolves kill their livestock or guard dogs. The updated version calls for compensation up to $15,000 per animal.

Commission Chair Carrie Besnette Hauser explained the increase in maximum compensation for animals killed by wolves under the revised plan.

“It does not mean every depredation claim is $15,000, it simply means we raise that limit and provide a larger window for fair market value,” Hauser said.

The revision comes after several ranchers criticized the original proposal during a series of public hearings on the matter. Rancher Andy Spann of Gunnison told the commission at a January meeting that he and others who raise cattle on the West Slope were skeptical of the state’s plans to reimburse them for any livestock the wolves kill.

“It will be difficult to get timely compensation,” he said. “These will be very real economic losses to us, and many ranchers could go out of business.”

Spann added there could be a decline in cattle breeding rates because of additional stress the presence of wolves may cause cattle.

The commission could still make other changes, including clarifying under what circumstances wolves could be hunted or killed, before it takes a final vote in May.

Conservation groups have been asking the commission since the plan was released in December to ban ranchers from hunting or killing wolves unless they first try non-lethal methods to prevent wolf attacks on livestock.

Parks and Wildlife wants to start the wolf reintroduction by releasing between ten to fifteen wolves next winter on the Western Slope, somewhere between Vail and Glenwood Springs.

Voters approved the reintroduction effort in 2020 with a requirement that it happen before 2024.

Hauser said last week the commission will follow through with the reintroduction effort despite the fierce debate over the ballot measure that approved it.

"Colorado Parks and Wildlife will strive to restore gray wolves to Colorado in ways that enable a self-sustaining population, reassure and validate ranchers and agricultural producers regarding their livelihoods and heritage, and celebrate a truly historic achievement in our country for wildlife advocates," Hauser said.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.
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