Our View: Come to meeting, have a say

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Division of Wildlife officials are coming to Craig Monday, marking the first of several meetings across the state aimed at getting public input about a proposed plan to manage migrating wolves that stray into Colorado.

Moffat County had two representatives on the Colorado Gray Wolf Management Plan Working Group, which recently issued a 67-page report recommending that migrating wolves be monitored but allowed to roam freely; unless they attack livestock or kill off wildlife. In that case, officials could intervene and possibly even kill a wolf, according to the proposed plan.

A summary of the report -- which won't be available in its entirety until after Monday -- includes some safeguards for livestock producers and addresses the affect wolves could have on big-game herds, which is a concern for Colorado's lucrative hunting industry.

The task force included ranchers, hunters and wildlife advocates. Moffat County's Jean Stetson and former county commissioner Les Hampton were among task force members charged with coming to a consensus on the issue. The wolf working group overcame a lot of dissension that threatened to undermine the process. But as wildlife advocate Rob Edwards told The Associated Press, what kept people on either side of the table from getting up and walking out was "the clear understanding that if this group couldn't do it, no one could."

For that very reason, we are confident that the report's recommendations represent a solid middle-of-the-road approach to dealing with wolves. The recommendations seem reasonable. For example, the group wants there to be some kind of compensation program for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves, but they don't think sportsmen should have to foot the bill. We think that's fair. Wolf advocates should be willing to raise money to pay for the potential damage that wolves could cause.

Highlights of some other recommendations include:

  • The public should be kept informed, involved and educated. Ranchers should be alerted about wolf pack presence. There should be outreach with livestock producers on how to avoid depredation and report problems.
  • Producers should be rewarded for assisting in non-lethal wolf control.
  • The DOW should work with other state and federal agencies in surveying wolf occurrence and status, and work closely with counties and federal agencies to achieve a timely and appropriate management response to livestock depredation.
  • The DOW should operate a wolf damage fund within the Colorado Game Damage program, but the funds should not come from sportsmen's dollars and should not encroach upon other game damage payment programs. The DOW should manage wolves so that livestock producers and sportsmen do not bear the cost of having wolves present in Colorado.
  • The DOW should consider wolf predation in managing elk and deer and strive to maintain healthy, viable populations. Predator management should be considered if this goal cannot be attained.

We're eager to learn how many hoops ranchers will have to jump through to get compensation for livestock lost to suspected wolves. Hopefully, there will be a system in place so that ranchers won't have to go to extremes -- like presenting photographic evidence of a wolf in the act of killing -- to qualify for compensation.

The Division of Wildlife will study the group's plan and wildlife commissioners likely will vote on it in May. The meetings, including Monday's meeting at 7 p.m. at Shadow Mountain Clubhouse, will give the public a chance to have a say before a final decision is made.

So far, the plan seems like a common-sense way to deal with wolves that drift down from Wyoming. But anyone with overarching concerns should plan on attending the meeting and getting those questions answered.

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