Ranchers focus on payment

Wolf plan presented Monday in Craig

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Many residents of Northwest Colorado still do not want wolves living in the state, but many have come to accept that the presence of wolves is inevitable.

That was the general opinion of those who attended the Colorado Division of Wildlife's first public meeting about draft regulations for managing wolves that migrate to Colorado.

"They spent a lot of money years ago getting rid of them, because they're a predator. And they still are a predator," Jim Buffham said.

Buffham and his wife, Pam, run 130 head of cattle in Moffat County. They were concerned about the effect wolves could have on their ranch, but they also worried what effect wolves would have on big-game herds.

The meeting followed an open house format. Division of Wildlife officials manned booths that provided information about various aspects of the management plan, recently completed by a 14-member working group.

Some important points of the plan, said Gary Skiba, wildlife coordinator for the wildlife conservation sector of the DOW, include the acknowledgement that the presence of wolves in Colorado is acceptable, and that if wolves cause problems, the problem animal will be handled.

Compensation proved to be a sticking point for many at the meeting. The plan states that ranchers will be compensated for animals that they can prove wolves destroyed. The environmental group Defenders of Wildlife will fund the compensation program.

"My main worry is how do you address that compensation rate?" Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said.

He worried that a wolf would kill a calf, and the rancher would be compensated only for the market value of the calf, rather than the market value of the full-grown steer.

Dave Johnson, owner of Keystone Ranch near Maybell, had similar concerns.

"In our situation, there's no way to tell if wolves are eating them," he said.

Ninety miles of fence line surround Keystone Ranch. By the time the ranchers discovered their livestock had been killed, they figured it would be too late to prove it, Johnson said.

But some at the meeting had a more generous attitude toward wolves and the plan.

"Fourteen people came together, and they came to a consensus," Moffat County resident and wildlife advocate Rick Hammel said. "It works. It's workable. It's a first step."

Hammel said he was neutral about reintroducing wolves in Colorado.

He said he had strong feelings about the connectivity of Colorado's ecosystem.

Many have said that Colorado will struggle to maintain reproducing wolf packs.

Yet that appears to be where the wolf debate is headed.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission is scheduled to vote on the wolf management plan in May.

The plan will take effect when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removes the gray wolf from the endangered species list. But the decision has been postponed as Wyoming struggles to develop a management plan that Fish and Wildlife will approve.

After the commission approves the plan, the wolf working group could reconvene to address some unresolved issues. Reintroduction is foremost among those issues.

Rob Edwards, director of Boulder-based environmental group Sinapu, said he thought it unlikely that wolves would repatriate Colorado on their own.

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