First Wolves Released in Colorado; Rural Coloradans Brace for Impact

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Gray wolves were released in Colorado this week, beginning the implementation of a controversial plan to introduce up to 50 gray wolves into the state. It was recently revealed that three of the wolves, which were transported from Oregon, came from packs that have killed livestock.

The majority of rural Coloradans oppose introducing non-native apex predators in a state with thousands of sheep and cattle ranches. Prop 114, the controversial bill to introduce gray wolves in Colorado, passed on razor thin margins in 2020, just 50.91% to 49.09%, with largely urban support.

Scheduled just days before the December 31 deadline mandated by voters in Prop 114, this was the first-ever wildland release of an endangered species by a state. It took place at a secret location somewhere in Grand County early Monday morning. Collected in Oregon the day prior, they wolves had been tranquilized and equipped with GPS collars before being loaded into crates and flown to Colorado. Governor Jared Polis was present to release one of the wolves; select members of the media were also there. The drop location remains a secret from the public.

Other Western states allow management; in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, ranchers may shoot wolves on sight if they are going after pets or livestock. Colorado is different. Here, ranchers who kill wolves, even those caught in the act of chasing cattle or cowdogs, face a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Grand County is a rural county; residents voted 64% against wolf introduction. After the release, social media exploded with frustration.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) hit an early snag when neighboring states Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho refused to give them any wolves. In a letter, Jim Fredericks, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, explained his reasoning.

“Idaho’s experience leads us to conclude that negative impacts of wolves sent to Colorado will not stay in Colorado.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by other Western states before Oregon agreed to supply wolves.

In April, the plan faced another roadblock when Colorado almost passed a bill that would have labeled the wolf herd “experimental” and given the state flexibility in managing them (specifically as relates to lethal control). The bill quickly passed the state house and senate but was vetoed by Governor Polis.

Wolves have already been present in the state for quite some time, crossing the Wyoming border. Ranchers say the state’s actions so far have not earned their trust; CPW does not have a promising track record for managing problem wolves or allocating reimbursement after a livestock kill. While the state is required to reimburse ranchers for livestock killed by wolves, ranchers report the process is tedious and impossible–and that was before Monday’s release and the coming deluge of new wolf packs in the Centennial State. Beyond that, the system is not designed to reflect much of the harm sustained by ranchers, such as underweight livestock stressed by predators.

Journalist Sean Paige posted on X: “So, after having wolves devour his/her livelihood, the victim must prove predation to a government ecocrat before he/she can collect compensation. And where’s the compensation when wolf-harassed heifers have sick or underweight offspring?”

Meanwhile, Walden rancher Don Gittleson has been unsuccessfully petitioning the state to put down the aggressive pack that crossed over from Wyoming and killed three of his cows and several more calve. The pack has been terrorizing ranchers in Jackson County, killing two of a neighbor’s cowdogs. Mr. Gittleston told The Colorado Sun he has received reimbursement for only two of his cows and one calf.

Officials are currently investigating whether a Wyoming pack is responsible for the deaths of 18 calves at a ranch near Meeker, Colorado, about 100 miles from Walden. Rancher Lenny Klinglesmith found his calves dead after returning from a trip to Montana, where he had been attending a conference on preparing for wolves.

The cause of death has not been identified, but the carcasses showed telltale signs of wolf attacks.

Ranchers across Colorado are bracing for impact, aware their wolf troubles are just beginning. It was recently reported three of the wolves released in Grand County came from packs that killed livestock in Oregon. This despite CPW’s promises they would not transplant from problem packs.

Last month, CPW program manager Eric Odell told 9NEWS: “That’s part of the consideration too, that we’re working with the state, with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, to identify the packs that are known depredators, where there’s really a chronic issue going on. We won’t take animals from those packs either, because we want to take animals that are trained on wild ungulates. That’s our hope that their primary prey is, so we’ll use the knowledge Oregon has collected over their years of monitoring of the tendencies of those packs.”

The five wolves taken from Oregon, three males and two females, came from three different packs. Two of those packs seem to have killed cattle in Oregon as recently as this year according to state records, 9NEWS reports.

With the first promise made to Colorado ranchers already broken, few say they feel optimistic about the future of this program.

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