Debate over wolf reintroduction continues

Advocates say they might work outside the Division of Wildlife's wolf working group to bring wolves back to Colorado.

But some local ranchers and the Moffat County commissioners oppose working outside the DOW to get wolves reintroduced in the state.

In May, the Colorado Wildlife Commission approved the working group's recommendations for managing wolves that might migrate into Colorado from other states. The working group's next step will be looking at managing a large population of wolves that make their home in Colorado.

But the working group -- which is made up of representatives from local governments, wildlife advocates, livestock producers, sportsmen and biologists -- hasn't looked at reintroducing wolves into the state, just managing wolves that migrate here.

Gary Skiba, the DOW wildlife biologist coordinating wolf management, said the working group hasn't addressed reintroducing wolves because the group can't reach a consensus on the matter. "It's just not something the group is able to address," Skiba said.

Rob Edward, a working group member representing wildlife advocates, said because the working group hasn't addressed reintroducing wolves, wildlife advocates might look at other options.

"It appears we're at a stalemate with wolf reintroduction," Edward said. "We want to get on with the job of recovering wolves because it is the ecologically right thing to do."

Edward works for Sinapu in Boulder, a conservation group dedicated to reintroducing carnivores in the Southern Rockies.

He said he would prefer to get wolves reintroduced by going through the working group, but doesn't think that is an option anymore.

"We don't ultimately want to see this go to a ballot initiative," Edward said, but his group is willing to put the issue on a future ballot if the working group doesn't address it.

Edward said he could also use federal laws, such as the endangered species act, to bring wolves back to Colorado.

Polls show 70 percent of Coloradans support reintroducing wolves, Edward said, so he is "absolutely certain" a ballot initiative would pass.

Les Hampton, a local rancher and former Moffat County commissioner serving on the working group, said groups like Sinapu don't understand what wolves will do.

"They don't have a dog in this fight," Hampton said. "What they're suggesting will not be in their backyard."

The Moffat County commissioners said Tuesday they oppose groups that work outside of the DOW to reintroduce wolves. In 2004, when Hampton was a commissioner, the board signed a resolution opposing reintroduction of wolves.

Commissioners sent a letter to DOW director Bruce McCloskey Tuesday that reads: "We are opposed to groups that propose to reintroduce wolves without working through the Wolf Working Group and local communities."

Hampton was at the commissioners meeting Tuesday and said working outside of the DOW would undermine the process.

"I think it is a threat to the process," Hampton said.

Hampton said reintroducing wolves isn't the best way to manage wolves in the state.

He said allowing wolves to migrate here and managing them as they come in is better because it allows scientists to understand how wolves will operate in Colorado.

"If we reintroduce them, we won't have that learning curve," Hampton said.

Gray wolves have been reintroduced in other states, including Wyoming, where a wolf sighting was confirmed near Baggs in 2003.

Hampton said it's only a matter of time before wolves migrate to Colorado.

"I'm convinced in 10 years, we will have wolves living in Colorado," Hampton said.

Colorado is the gray wolf's natural habitat, but the species was eradicated in the 1930s.

The only confirmed gray wolf to migrate to Colorado from another state was in 2004, when a female from Yellowstone National Park was killed on Interstate 70.

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