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Grand County livestock growers urge Polis, wildlife officials to 'lethally' manage wolves following attacks

This week's wolf attacks bring the number of calves and yearlings killed by wolves in the past 16 days to six, plus an injured calf

With news that wolves have killed four more yearling cows in Grand County in less than 72 hours, an association of ranchers is pleading with Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to "lethally" manage chronically depredating wolves.

Four yearlings killed by wolves this week were all on the same ranch in Grand County. A calf was found injured on a ranch in Jackson County on April 13, which wildlife officials confirmed.  

This week's wolf attacks bring the number of calves and yearlings killed by wolves in the past 16 days to six, plus the injured calf.

All of the attacks occurred in Grand or Jackson counties. Ten wolves, several that came from packs in Oregon with histories of killing livestock, were released in Colorado in December in Grand County.

The wolf attacks began during calving season, which generally runs from March to May or June. 

Wolf maps from Colorado Parks and Wildlife show that the animals, which are collared, have moved both as far west as Rio Blanco and Moffat counties and as far east as Clear Creek and Larimer counties.

A collared wolf sent out a "ping," which identifies a more precise location, at Snow Mountain Ranch earlier this month. The ranch is a popular resort owned by the YMCA of the Rockies that, at this time of year, hosts nordic skiing, snowshoeing, tubing and other winter activities. The ranch attracts thousands of visitors, including kids, on its 5,100 acres.

The letter from the Middle Park Stockgrowers was sent to the governor, members of the parks and wildlife commission, and Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs.

"There have been five confirmed depredations in Grand County, but our producers, now more familiar with signs of wolf depredations, believe they have experienced multiple additional attacks and kills," the group said. 

The group officially requested to the Colorado Park and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife "to lethally remove these two chronically depredating wolves."

"These two wolves have killed five head of livestock, in three separate events, in the past 16 days. This is chronic depredation," they wrote.

CPW has been slow to act on issuing a rule that would define "chronic" depredation, despite multiple requests from livestock growers and other ranchers who have lost multiple animals to wolves.

A definition would allow CPW and ranchers to lethally deal with the wolf problem, ranchers and others said.  

So far, CPW's response has been to put a plan in place to hire range riders, but that would require covering 1,800 square miles in Grand County and about 70 ranches. The agency has also suggested non-lethal methods for scaring off wolves, which ranchers have said don't work. 

In their letter, the Middle Park Stockgrowers noted that CPW has admitted the wolves brought to Colorado from Oregon came from known packs with a history of killing livestock.

"This was a clear violation of the wolf management plan adopted by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission," the group said.

The letter was accompanied by photos of the most recent kills. 

The Middle Park Stockgrowers offered compliments to their local wildlife contacts, but it came with a veiled warning. The group said the local officers have been "very cooperative and responsive."

The group added: "The relationship between producers and CPW is critically important as we move forward in this process."

Without expressly saying so, the group is signaling to Colorado Parks and Wildlife that its refusal to take action could cost the agency down the road.

Already, the Yuma County Cattlemen's Association has said its members will "close their gates" to wildlife staff who have worked with ranchers in the past on conservation efforts. 

Private landowners play a significant role in the state's conservation work. Indeed, the state's private land program says without that support, "modern-day Colorado's remarkable wildlife abundance — and equally rich hunting and fishing opportunities — simply would not exist."

The cattlemen's group recently pointed out that ranchers have opened their gates to wildlife and members of the public who respectfully enjoy the use of these lands for hunting, bird watching, recreation and even star gazing.

That's changing, the Yuma group said, adding, "Private gates are being locked to CPW, making cooperation and management of wildlife incredibly difficult."

Indeed, even as officials of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife insisted the recent killing of a calf by wolf is not their fault, the relationship with ranchers has soured to the point private landowners have begun considering to restrict state access to their properties, potentially jeopardizing programs that rely on the latter's help.

During an April 5 meeting, Commissioner Marie Haskett of Meeker noted that depredation "has begun."

"I would like to ask people not to blame CPW for the wolf depredations. What we did was mandated (by law)," she said, adding that the wolf introduction was the people's will. “We need everybody to work with us, so please remember that. And don't hold it against CPW. It was just something that we had to do by law."

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Jeff Davis echoed Haskett, saying, "CPW is just implementing the law." Folks, he said, tend to see the agency as "doing this to them."

Erin Karney, executive vice president for the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, isn't buying that argument.

Karney said the state agency decided which wolves would be brought to Colorado, including animals that came from packs with a history of killing livestock. As an agency, officials must take responsibility for releasing the wolves, Karney said, adding the officials know wolves are apex predators — animals atop the food chain with no natural predators.

"It's not just about wolves," Karney told Colorado Politics. "It's affecting everything that happened throughout the agency."

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