No wolves to be released in Gunnison County this winter

CPW says wolves will be reintroduced to Eagle, Summit and Grand counties in 2023/24

By Katherine Nettles

If wolves arrive in the Gunnison Valley this year, it will have to be on their own four legs. According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) commission, they are not considering Gunnison County as a location for the initial stage of releasing wolves this winter. Instead, they will do their first releases in areas to the north including Eagle, Summit and Grand Counties, and the idea is that the apex predators will matriculate freely to other areas of the state from their release points. 

CPW’s plan is based on the statewide ballot initiative in 2020 by which voters approved reintroducing the grey wolf to the Western Slope of Colorado beginning no later than December 31, 2023.

CPW has spent the three years since the ballot measure passed creating a plan for wolf reintroduction to its historic range in Colorado over the next several years, which has included a draft plan, numerous public meetings, public comment periods and an outreach campaign. The primary goal, as stated in the final plan, is “To recover and maintain a viable, self-sustaining wolf population in Colorado, while concurrently working to minimize wolf-related conflicts with domestic animals, other wildlife, and people.”

In 2022, CPW identified the two main areas where it would focus wolf releases, which included a southern area of Gunnison County along Highway 50 between Monarch Pass and Montrose. The other primary location for releases was identified as a northern area along the I-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Vail, extending down to the Roaring Fork Valley. CPW passed the Final Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan in May 2023.

 CPW public relations supervisor Travis Duncan, who is the lead wolf communications contact for CPW, confirmed to the Crested Butte News this week that wolves are not in the picture for Gunnison County this winter. 

“All releases in year one will happen in Eagle, Summit and Grand counties. ”

“Gunnison County is not being considered for releases in the 2023-2024 winter,” said Duncan.

The Gunnison Basin has been discussed as an area for release in the second year, says Gunnison County commissioner chair Jonathan Houck, who was part of the technical working group that informed the process prior to the initial draft plan released last winter. Houck says his knowledge of release sites is limited due to the fact that those decisions were not in the purview of the technical working group but rather left to the wildlife biologist at CPW. CPW’s public statements have indicated that they would prioritize areas where they had public support and willing access to land. Of the four counties identified for release areas, only Summit County supported the initiative in 2020 with a 54% vote in favor.

Gunnison County voters were largely opposed to the ballot initiative for wolf reintroduction in 2020, with a majority of 57% voting against it. Gunnison Stockgrowers have repeatedly expressed opposition to the plan, and in February 2023, they submitted a comment letter signed by most if not all stock growers and stock grower organizations within Gunnison County, asking for some additional considerations to the final wolf plan. Duncan said that overall agricultural interests were well-represented throughout the process. 

“The agricultural community was well represented on the Stakeholder Advisory Group, which created the recommendations that informed the final plan. The Parks and Wildlife Commission took into consideration comments from hundreds of contributors as they directed staff to modify and amend the Draft plan that was presented in December 2022, to the final plan that was presented and unanimously approved in May 2023. The Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan was approved in May 2023 and includes generous compensation rates if a rancher does experience losses to their livestock from wolves,” he stated.

In a one-year agreement announced in October between CPW and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon will be a source for up to 10 wolves for the Colorado gray wolf reintroduction effort. These wolves will be captured and translocated between December 2023 and March 2024, according to the press release from CPW. “CPW will make efforts to transplant wolves that have not been involved in repeated depredations,” according to the release, as well as those who do not have major injuries such as several broken canines, missing eyes, fractured or missing limbs, mange or lice infection.

Duncan said for the areas where releases are planned to begin next month, ranchers will be informed once wolves have been released so they know to be more vigilant of herds. 

“Yes, the agency has been and will continue to conduct outreach/education in areas that are likely to have wolves. This ranges from internal trainings to joint external presentations, demonstrations, panels, and attending local meetings. Recent examples include hiring Wolf Conflict Coordinator Adam Baca, participation in the June Heart of the Rockies ‘Delivering Carnivore Prevention Workshop,’ working closely with CSU Extension on the Wolf Conflict Reduction Fund and partnering with Colorado Department of Agriculture and USDA-APHIS,” stated Duncan.

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Area Wildlife Managers and District Wildlife Managers will conserve and manage wolves in concert with the rest of our state’s native wildlife. That will involve active management to address conflicts between wolves, people, livestock, and other wildlife species,” he continued.

“When wolf-livestock depredations occur, CPW wildlife officers will work closely with ranchers to implement approved hazing methods. Some methods include, but are not limited to: carcass management, physical barriers (i.e., fencing and electrified fencing), guard animals, auditory and visual scare tactics (i.e., fladry, lights, sirens), and increased human presence/vigilance.”

Duncan reviewed that CPW personnel have received wolf-livestock depredation field identification/investigation training from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “CPW personnel are also trained in identifying/investigating livestock depredations caused by other depredating species,” he said.

A Wolf Resource Guide specific to wolf depredation is available online and in printed format to be distributed to ranchers in Colorado who are experiencing issues. More information, including pet safety, how to live with wolves and timelines for the reintroduction plan, can be found at https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/Wolves-Stay-Informed.aspx.

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