Wolf talk

Ruling could revive reintroduction discussion

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A federal judge's ruling on wolves has put the implementation of the state wolf working group's management recommendations on hold indefinitely.

Members of the wolf working group say their efforts still were worthwhile, because they've developed a foundation for wolf management in Colorado when wolves are removed from the endangered species list.

Environmentalists are celebrating the decision, saying it could pave the way to reintroduce wolves in Colorado.

But representatives from the agriculture industry are concerned that the decision took away some of the tools ranchers could use to deal with wolves that migrate to Colorado.

Last week, Federal District Court Judge Robert Jones vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to downgrade the legal status of gray wolves in the lower 48 states from endangered to threatened. His decision supported the contentions of environmental groups such as Sinapu, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club that Fish and Wildlife had rushed to strip wolves of their legal protections.

The judge's ruling came one day after the Colorado Division of Wildlife held its first meeting to collect public comments about the working group's recommendations for managing wolves that migrate to Colorado.

The DOW's plan was to collect public comments and have the working group reconvene to review comments before the Wildlife Commission decided whether or not to adopt the recommendations. If the commission adopted the recommendations, they would have taken effect when Fish and Wildlife removed gray wolves from the endangered species list.

"Overall, I think it means the plan has even more ultimate importance, because it shows an advance good faith effort to develop support for wolves," said Rob Edward, director of Boulder-based Sinapu and a member of the wolf working group.

The decision gives Colorado a chance no other state has had, he said. The state can develop a plan for the recovery of wolves.

The working group only discussed how to manage wolves that migrate to the state, though at times group members argued about the role wolf reintroduction should play in the plan. Some group members have offered to reconvene to develop a plan for reintroduction.

Edward said he doesn't like the situation the judge's decision has put the state in any more than many ranchers do. By returning the wolf to endangered status, it again is illegal to shoot, harm or harass a wolf. Before the decision, Colorado wolf management operated under the 4d rule, which permitted ranchers to kill wolves that attacked livestock.

"That's not a situation we want to see persisted for the people of Colorado," Edward said.

Moffat County resident Jean Stetson served on the working group as a representative of the livestock industry. The ruling "took away tools ranchers had to deal with wolves," Stetson said.

Ranchers can get that tool back only if the government recovers wolves across their historic range, which includes much of Colorado.

"You're going to have a hard time convincing any livestock producer that's a good thing," Stetson said.

But Edward disagreed.

"We can get to recovery very soon if everybody will just cooperate. There are ways we can do this to meet the needs of everybody at the table," he said.

Edward thinks wolves could be recovered within 10 years.

The Wildlife Commission still officially opposes wolf reintroduction. Fish and Wildlife has announced it is disappointed in the judge's ruling.

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