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CPW ups compensation for livestock killed by wolves

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“We’re nervous. We’re scared,” Meeker resident Ann Marie Scritchfield told the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission at a public meeting in Rifle earlier this month. Scritchfield is the owner/operator of Sable Mountain Outfitters, a 24-year, family-run business in Rio Blanco County. 

Scritchfield joined close to 300 ranchers, outfitters, ecologists, and wolf proponents at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Rifle to comment on the draft plan for wolf reintroduction, hammered out over the past year and a half by a 19-member Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) and a 17-member Technical Working Group (TWG). 

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Scritchfield pretty much summed up the concerns of the outfitters and livestock growers in the audience. “Everyone’s fearful of losing their livelihoods,” she said. “I fully support the efforts of the SAG and support their plan,” she added, urging the Commission to support the plan too. (Both groups have made recommendations to the Commission, which will ultimately make the final plan decision.) 

Outfitters are worried that wolves will kill or disperse big game, such as elk, deer and bighorn sheep, that drive business. Dale Coombs, co-owner of D & G Horses and Outfitting in Rifle and Meredith, said that outfitting has been the family business for almost five decades. “It has always been my hope that someday I could pass this business on to my children and grandchildren,” he told the Commission. “But that dream is fading fast due to the fact that all indications are that the area in which we operate may very well be Ground Zero for wolf releases.” 

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CPW will not disclose exactly where wolves will be released and there are a few criteria and restrictions determining the release sites. Wolves will be released on state and private lands in two zones on Colorado’s Western Slope, 60 miles from the Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico borders. The northern zone encompasses the I-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Vail, and extends down the Roaring Fork Valley. The southern zone covers the Highway 50 corridor between Monarch Pass (east of Gunnison) and Montrose. First-year releases will occur only in the northern zone. 

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The northern and southern zones of release in CPW’s draft plan for wolf reintroduction. Courtesy graphic

Cattle and sheep ranchers seem to want two outcomes: to be fairly compensated for livestock loss due to wolf predation and the ability to kill depredating wolves. Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock told the Commission that “all the tools must be in the box” to manage wolves. That includes the 10(j) Rule, downlisting the reintroduced wolves from “endangered” in Colorado to “threatened” thereby opening the door to lethal control. 

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But, there is a catch. The 10(j) Rule is part of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must engage in a rulemaking process, which involves the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This process can take months to complete. If the reintroduced wolves arrive in Colorado before the NEPA process is complete, they will remain protected as an endangered species. “Imagine if the wolves were put on the ground and [the rule] wasn’t in the plan,” said Comstock. “We’d have fully protected wolves under the ESA and flexibility would be completely minimized.” In other words, without the 10(j), lethal control would be off the table.

Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, told the Commission that the best available scientific data does not support lethal control of wolves, citing 30 years of wildlife and livestock studies from western states and Alaska. “There’s been a lot of lethal control but there hasn’t been a lot of reduction in livestock losses,” he said. ”There is no scientific data that supports that we should be hunting wolves or lethally controlling wolves to increase game populations.”

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The Commission agreed to increase livestock loss compensation amounts in the plan from $8,000 to $15,000 per animal; although no one knows how the plan will be funded.

Many who spoke up at the meeting acknowledged the efforts of the SAG and TWG committees to reach a compromise on many issues, urging the Commission not to throw out the recommendations. But not everyone had an open mind. “How many kids are going to be killed by the wolf? How many families are going to be disemboweled by these wolves?” asked a rancher from Coulter Mesa. “Why don’t you name the one you collared [in North Park] ‘Satan’ or ‘Lucifer’ because it is the devil!” 

You can find CPW’s draft wolf reintroduction plan at

The public comment period for the draft wolf plan is open through Feb. 22. The next public meeting is online on Feb. 16 from 5:30 to 8:30pm.

Past Commission meetings are available on CPW’s YouTube page:

Tags: #Amy Hadden Marsh #Colorado Parks & Wildlife #ranchers #wolves
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