Moffat County BOCC re-affirms opposition to wolf reintroduction

CRAIG — On Tuesday morning, the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners signed the county’s second resolution in recent years regarding gray wolf management.

The publicity surrounds recent pushes for wolf reintroduction by a coalition of environmental organizations involved in the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, led the Moffat County Land Use Board, to consider updating the county’s wolf management resolution.

Many Moffat County residents are concerned about the impacts wolves could have on livestock and wildlife in the area. Commissioner Ray Beck was troubled by the possible economic impact the canines could have on related industries.

The 1911 Board of County Commissioners set bounties for gray wolves at $15 for adults and $5 for pups in this clipping of the July 13, 1911 issue of the Moffat County Courier.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, gray wolves lived in Colorado until the last individuals were killed in the 1940s.

The mainstays of their diet were bison, elk and deer, supplemented by small game. Wolves began preying on livestock after market hunters decimated the large mammals that made up most of the wolves’ diet.

Because of this, wolves in Colorado were eradicated. A resolution passed by the Moffat County BOCC in 1911 set a bounty for the animals. People could cash in dead wolves and receive $15 for adults and $5 for pups.

In 2016, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission re-affirmed its opposition to releasing wolves in the state.

“We will not release wolves in Colorado,” said CPW spokesperson Mike Porras. “It would need legislative approval, and since they’re under the jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Service, that is essentially who would take the lead on any of those kinds of efforts.”

“If they become re-established at the population level in this state, then we’d prefer to manage them at that point, but that’s only if they come in here naturally,” Porras said.

Two Gray Wolves run through the snow. Some groups have proposed reintroducing wolves to western Colorado.

Wolves are crossing the Wyoming border and wandering into Colorado with increasing frequency, according to CPW. These migrants are often young, single males that have been pushed out of their packs and roam to find more territory. At least five credible sightings of gray wolves in Colorado have been reported since 2004.

“Unfortunately, I believe in my heart that Moffat County’s going to be at the front lines of this,” said Jean Stetson, a member of the county Land Use Board.

In the last decade, CPW has not received any reports of conflict or negative interactions with wolves, according to CPW Species Conservation Program Manager Eric Odell, who is responsible for tracking wolf sightings in the state.

The BOCC’s resolution includes the following.

  • Reiterates the BOCC’s support for recommendations made by the Colorado Wolf Management Working Group.
  • Supports de-listing wolves in Colorado. Though de-listing wolves remains a hypothetical, the action would put control of wolf management into the hands of the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife would then manage wolves according to recommendations made by the Wolf Management Working Group.
  • Opposes wolf reintroductions.
  • Encourages amending plans for migrating wolves and planning for resident wolves.
  • Supports funding recommendations for migrating wolves and additional funding for planning for resident wolves.
  • Recommends that management efforts protect local economies so they do not experience economic losses and create financial compensation strategies to offset losses to livestock and wildlife.
  • Supports public education about wolf management.

The resolution largely re-iterates the county’s support for recommendations made by the Wolf Management Working Group. The group, made up of Colorado ranchers, wildlife biologists, county commissioners, hunters and wildlife advocates, issued recommendations for the management of wolves in Colorado in 2004, which has formal support from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“That only comes into play once the state has management authority for the species,” Odell said.

Because wolves are listed as a federally endangered species, management of the animals falls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Gray wolves were recently delisted in Wyoming and were delisted in Montana and Idaho in 2011 after reintroduced populations grew, meeting species recovery goals.

The decision to de-list wolves is ultimately in the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency has not initiated the process in Colorado.

To report a possible wolf sighting, visit CPW’s website. Photos and video are helpful in identifying animals and confirming reports, Odell said.

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