When wolves arrive

Management team ponders plan for established packs

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Members of Colorado's wolf working group say they've come to an agreement on how to manage wolves that migrate to the state.

It remains to be seen whether they will make plans to handle established packs of wolves.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife originally charged the 14-member group with developing a plan by the end of October. Although it quickly became obvious the plan would take longer, the diverse group of environmentalists, ranchers and sportsmen is working respectfully together, said Delwin Benson, a professional wildlife biologist in the group.

"We really came to a position where we are working fairly with one another," Benson said.

The group hopes to finish a plan by mid-December.

The DOW gave them the task of developing a plan to manage migrating wolves. Group members, such as Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton, a local government representative in the group, would end the work at that point.

But group members such as Benson, a professor at Colorado State University, and environmental representative Mark Pearson, director of San Juan Citizens Alliance, think the group should at least discuss management strategies if wolf packs should establish themselves in Colorado.

They're preparing for the arrival of gray wolves that have been migrating south from Yellowstone National Park, where the federal government reintroduced them. At least one wolf has made it to Colorado. It was found dead on Interstate 70 several months ago.

But since then, Gary Skiba, a state wildlife biologist leading the wolf management effort, hasn't heard any reports of wolf sightings in Colorado. He said he was surprised by the lack of reports, especially during hunting season.

The DOW had expected the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list by the end of the year. But Wyoming has struggled to finish a management plan, and the delisting has been delayed. The delay has removed the time constraints Colorado's working group faced, Skiba said.

The group has agreed livestock owners will be allowed to shoot depredating wolves, but only if a wolf already has damaged livestock, Hampton said.

Benson described the plan as an "adaptive management approach." Wolves that cause no problems will be left alone, but wolves that eat too many wild or domestic animals will be removed or killed.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission likely will determine compensation for ranches with damaged or destroyed livestock.

The group is looking for funding sources other than the DOW, so hunters and anglers aren't the only people shouldering expenses for wolf management, Benson said. Because some surveys have indicated 70 percent of Coloradans would like wolves to be in the state, Benson said everyone should fund the project, either through taxes or donations.

Hampton advocates holding off on discussions or plans to manage wolves should they establish themselves in Colorado, because no one knows how wolves will act in Colorado.

"They may find their own place, where they're not harassed, where there's plenty of food, and where they can get established," Hampton said.

But Wyoming, Montana and Idaho each have wider and wilder spaces than Colorado, so wolves in those states have fewer opportunities to interact with livestock or humans and cause problems.

Before planning for permanent populations, the state should wait to see whether wolves stay in wild places such as national parks and wilderness areas or whether they will migrate into populous areas, Hampton said.

But because the group already has worked together for six months, Pearson thought it would be beneficial to plan for permanent packs in Colorado.

"From our perspective it would behoove us to look further down the road," Pearson said.

With its large wilderness areas and elk herds, Pearson said the San Juan region would be ideal for wolf reintroduction. One Mexican wolf population is present there, and plans to introduce packs in New Mexico mean Southwest Colorado could see more Mexican wolves.

Pearson argued that a larger wolf population in Colorado could benefit livestock owners.

"If you have an abundance of wolves, you don't need limits on what people can and can't do on their private land," he said.

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