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CPW says it will not kill wolves after attacks on North Park rancher’s cattle

In the latest chapter of Don Gittleson’s fight to protect his livestock from wolves, Colorado Parks and Wildlife says he should continue using mitigation tools the rancher claims haven’t worked
Kim Gittleson, in center, witnesses the investigation by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife district managers surrounding the heifer carcass, killed by wolves who migrated from Wyoming, Wednesday morning, Jan. 19, 2022, on the ranch outside Walden. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun)

After years of discussion and a formal letter asking for help, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has denied rancher Don Gittleson’s request for the agency to kill two wolves that have been preying on cattle on his Jackson County ranch.

Gittleson on Dec. 13 sent a letter to the agency requesting the lethal removal of the wolves, “so that they do not continue to affect the livelihood and mental well-being of the agriculture members of this state.”

Since December 2021, one of the wolves – No. 2101 – has killed or injured seven of Gittleson’s cows, including a calf last week, six of his neighbor’s cows and four working dogs. The other wolf – No. 2103 – killed three lambs at rancher Philip Anderson’s place. Both ranches are in North Park.

In his letter, Gittleson asserted the agency intentionally chose not to define what a “habitual depredating wolf/wolf pack is” and implored CPW “to stop talking and start managing.”

Under the Colorado Wolf Management Plan, a rancher can kill a wolf if they discover it “chronically depredating” their livestock, or if they are in an act of self defense or defense of human life. But the plan does not clearly define what makes a wolf “chronically depredating,” and says wildlife officials will make that determination on a case-by-case basis.

On Dec. 22, the agency determined it would not lethally remove the wolves chronically depredating on Gittleson’s cattle.

The reasoning in the letter, written by CPW director Jeff Davis, is that after considering the entire history of depredation events in Gittleson’s region, including the most recent ones in November and December, and considering “the change in pack dynamics over the preceding year when most of the pack left the area and did not return,” the “number and frequency of [depredations] has dropped.”

During an interview with The Colorado Sun, Kim Gittleson, who owns the Gittleson ranch with her husband, Don, expressed frustration.

“They tell us to reach out for help with mitigation, but in the year when we had the most problems (2022), we brought in donkeys, we brought horned cattle, we had fladry, we had cracker shells, we had so many things,” she said. “In addition, we spent every night from January through the end of May (physically present with their herd, protecting it). So I’m not sure what else they think we should be doing” to keep the wolves from depredating at their ranch.

In the letter from CPW, Davis said the agency “will continue to monitor the situation and collaborate with other ranchers in Jackson County and across the state to evaluate future actions.” He encouraged the Gittlesons to continue using the tools Kim mentioned and to collaborate with their local CPW staff.

But Kim said, “At every CPW meeting, we hear about how understaffed they are. But my husband runs 11,000 acres (on land leased from the Colorado State Land Board) and 200 cattle pretty much by himself. So I would challenge them to come spend a day in the life of the ranchers who they expect to step up to the plate and do more to protect their cattle from a predator that they’re forcing down our throats”

“I understand it’s not CPW’s fault, it’s the voters,” she added. “But now it’s in their court. And the governor wants these things, so maybe he should step up with more funding.”

In an email to The Sun, CPW spokesperson Travis Duncan said the agency recently entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Colorado Department of Agriculture on expanding assistance to farmers and ranchers to avoid wolf predation, and that a budget request through the governor’s office to provide support to farmers and ranchers for nonlethal deterrence will be submitted Jan 2.

The memorandum directs the general assembly to appropriate or authorize money to CPW through the general fund, the species conservation fund, the nongame conservation and wildlife restoration fund along with the wildlife cash fund – except for money generated through the sales of hunting and fishing licenses or associated federal grants – to pay for this support.

It also says “it is the mutual desire of CDA and CPW to manage and recover gray wolf populations within Colorado while minimizing conflicts with livestock and agriculture producers.”

In a November news release, the Colorado agriculture department said it will work directly with producers to provide technical assistance for nonlethal prevention methods and develop appropriate, nonlethal livestock management strategies that minimize livestock-predator interactions.

It will also “advance the adoption of nonlethal management tools” among ranchers, collaborate and co-branded media responses and educational tools and conduct cross-training at least annually between CDA and CPW staff who work directly with impacted communities. The goal is to “improve communication, understanding of available programs at both agencies, and delivery of services and resources to impacted individuals and communities.”

But Kim said in years past, when USDA helped with fladry, they only used it on 40 acres. At the time, she said, “they told us that’s one of the biggest areas they’d ever done. They’re used to dealing with small farms and ranches, not like the ones we have in this valley. And, you know, we kept our cows in that 40-acre pasture until calving season. We ended up with one dead cow – from falling and not being able to get up – another, which my husband, with a torn bicep, was able to help, and quite a few cases of mastitis (a mammary gland infection), which we’ve never had but did because we kept them in such a small area.”

CPW completed its goal of releasing 10 wolves captured in Oregon onto the West Slope last Friday. A pair of those 10 were part of the large Five Points pack in Oregon that killed three livestock animals. In an email to The Sun, Duncan responded to claims that once a wolf preys on livestock they will continue to do so in the future, by saying any wolves that have been near livestock will have some history of depredation, including the pack in Oregon, but that it “does not mean they have a history of chronic depredation.”

“If a pack has infrequent depredation events, they should not be excluded as a source population, per the (Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management) plan,” he added.

As for what the Gittlesons are going to do if the wolves that have been attacking their cattle come back: “They keep telling us we can shoot them, but I guarantee you, the first person that shoots a wolf in Colorado is going to go through hell,” Kim said. “I think the governor is going to make (CPW) come after us as hard as they can.”

In an email to The Sun, CPW said it stands by regulations in the Colorado wolf management plan.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.

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