Predator Management, Colorado Ranchers, and Gray Wolf Reintroduction

On December 8th, 2023, a federal ruling went to effect that allows the State of Colorado to move forward with the reintroduction of gray wolves, set into motion by the Proposition 114 ballot initiative. Prop. 114, passed in the 2020 election by a narrow margin of 1.91%. These wolves have been sourced by Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) from Oregon with assistance of Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife with the initial release of five gray wolves taking place on December 18th, 2023 in Grand County on state-land near Radium, CO. Five more were released in following days before the new year. These releases are set to continue taking place on private and public land west of the Continental Divide and no closer than 60 miles from the Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico state-lines, as well as sovereign tribal lands within Colorado’s borders. The initial releases will continue to occur in Eagle, Summit, and Grand counties, wolves have begun to establish packs in Jackson County in the Walden, CO area.

Additionally, there has been confirmed evidence of the animal’s existence in the remote country of Northwest Colorado in Garfield and Moffat counties. These wolves are known to have come out of packs living in Wyoming and Montana based on GPS tracking information, with a handful of unknown origins.1

Given the nomadic nature of gray wolves, it is nearly guaranteed that these reintroduced packs will quickly expand their territory from their release points, crossing paths with livestock; working dogs; pets; and people along the way. Although people will not be able to protect their pets from predation from wolves, ranchers will be able to kill wolves that are in the process of attacking livestock or working dogs on private ground or public land where grazing leases are held, so long as U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and/or CPW are able to confirm the incident.1  This follows the recent ruling by the USFWS for a 10(j) permit designation of these reintroduced wolf packs, as a “nonessential experimental population”, which sidesteps the animal’s Endangered Species Act listing in Colorado.

Under the finalized 2023 Wolf Management Plan, a livestock producer would receive 100% fair market value per animal up to $15,000 for cattle, horses, mules, burros, sheep, lambs, swine, llama, alpaca, goats, and herding/guarding animals confirmed to be maimed or killed by wolved in the state.1    As many familiar with the livestock breeding industry know, elite pedigrees of working dogs, horses, mules, cattle, and other stock can be sold for far more than this $15,000 figure.

For cattle and sheep, once a depredation event occurs, ranchers will be able to apply for compensation of losses relating to missing yearling, decreased weaning rates, breeding shortfalls, and other losses on a case-by-case basis.1  The compensation for livestock or working dog losses will occur in an itemized or compensation ratio based format.1

Although the first 5 wolves have already to hit the ground in Colorado, those interested in protecting their ranching livelihoods are not done fighting this ballot-driven reintroduction plan. On December 11th, 2023, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and Gunnison County Stockgrowers’ Association announced that the groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court against the USFWS and CPW to delay reintroduction. A joint statement from the associations released the day of the lawsuit’s filing asserts:

“The associations seek to highlight the risks to livestock, wildlife, and the potential economic repercussions for the agriculture sector should the introduction proceed without the proper safeguards and mitigation strategies.  The litigation seeks to delay the release of wolves until the proper environmental impact review has been conducted.”2

Both a request for a temporary restraining order and lawsuit against the two agencies were dismissed on December 15th, 2023 by a U.S. District Court judge.3 The livestock groups asserted in their lawsuit that USFWS failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by not conducting their own environmental impact statements relating to the reintroduction efforts.4

In a statement released following Judge Regina M. Rodriguez’s decision, CCA’s President Robert Farnam said:

“Results show that Proposition 114 passed by a narrow margin in 2020. The will of the people must be respected, but the experiential knowledge of ranchers cannot be ignored. Wolf introduction in our state should not be moving forward without consideration of all the impacts, especially for the livestock, wildlife, and communities most affected”.5

In closing, CCA stated regarding the decisions that, “This is a setback to our legal strategy but not the end of our efforts.”5 Along the same vein as the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Gunnison County Stockgrowers’ Association, Confluence Land Company stands to uphold the ranching tradition Colorado was founded upon. Our team supports the cause for responsible decision-making at state and federal levels. In short, Proposition 114 was entirely unnecessary. Breeding populations of wolves were already in the state at the time 114 passed. The millions of dollars spent building out wolf reintroduction should have been spent on other much needed initiatives. Readers of this Field Note are urged to reach out to Michael Ledger and Joe Rudolph with any questions they may have regarding the implications of wolves on buying, selling, or managing ranch and sporting lands in Colorado, along with the greater-Rocky Mountain West.


References

1 Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan, CPW, 2023. https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Wolves/2023-Final-CO-Wolf-Plan.pdf 

2 “Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association Files Suit to Delay Wolf Introduction”, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, 2023. https://www.coloradocattle.org/index.php?option=com_dailyplanetblog&view=entry&year=2023&month=12&day=10&id=87:colorado-cattlemen-s-association-and-gunnison-county-stockgrowers-association-files-suit-to-delay-wolf-introduction 

3 “Case No. 1:23-cv-03258-RMR Document 31 filed 12/15/23 USDC Colorado”, The United States District Court for the District of Colorado, 2023. https://westernlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2023.12.15-Oder-Denying-CO-Wolf-TRO.pdf 

4 “Case No. 1:23-cv-03258 Document 1 filed 12/11/23 USDC Colorado”, The United States District Court for the District of Colorado, 2023. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HA1HfNZ39aF6xVawPHVQ-rV0iVg0S2w3/view 

5 “Colorado Livestock Producers Disappointed with Ruling in Suit to Delay Wolf Introduction”, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association (GCSA), 2023. https://www.coloradocattle.org/index.php?option=com_dailyplanetblog&view=entry&year=2023&month=12&day=15&id=88:colorado-livestock-producers-disappointed-with-ruling-in-suit-to-delay-wolf-introduction