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Wolves a concern for ranchers at annual Southwestern Colorado Livestock meeting

Fifty farmers and ranchers attended the Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association meeting Saturday at the Cortez Elk's Club. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Reintroduction planned in 2024 about 115 miles north of Montezuma County

A variety of ranching issues, including the impacts of reintroducing wolves to the Western Slope, were presented during the Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association annual meeting Saturday at the Cortez Elk’s Club.

Local, state, and federal agencies gave agriculture-related reports during morning and afternoon meetings.

The audience of 50 ranchers was especially tuned into information about the imminent arrival of wolves presented by Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Adrian Archuleta and CPW Southwest Regional Manager Cory Chick.

In 2020, Colorado voters narrowly approved Proposition 114 to allow the reintroduction of the gray wolf to the state by next year. Voters in Montezuma County widely opposed the measure, 63% to 37%.

CPW planning efforts are ongoing, and the preliminary objective is to transfer 30 to 50 gray wolves to the state in the next three to five years beginning in 2024.

Wildlife officials have identified the Gunnison Basin and the Glenwood Springs area for the release of the wolves. The reintroduction is limited to the Western Slope, and wolves that stray onto the Front Range will be relocated.

“With dispersal (Southwest Colorado) will be dealing with them at some point,” Archuleta said. “It’s a whole new ballgame.”

Public comment on the draft plan is being taken online and at meetings through Feb. 22. To comment online, visit engagecpw.org.

Meeting Saturday with the Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association in Cortez, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Adrian Archuleta and CPW Southwest Region Manager Cory Chick talk about the upcoming reintroduction of wolves into Colorado next year. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
BLM range conservationists Garth Nelson and Mike Jensen provide information at the Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association meeting Saturday in Cortez. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
James Dietrich, federal lands coordinator for Montezuma County, gives an update on ranching allotments. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Montezuma County Commissioner Gerald Koppenhafer give an update on new laws pertaining to livestock antibiotic availability at the Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association meeting Saturday. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

The final draft reintroduction plan will be presented to the CPW wildlife commission board April 6, and the plan will be voted on at the May 3-4 meeting.

Compensation for farmers and ranchers who lose livestock to wolf predation is a priority, officials said, and details are in the draft plan.

“Will you be informing us when wolves come through our area?” a man asked.

CPW plans to track wolf movement with GPS collars, but it is not feasible to collar every wolf. Consequently, CPW plans to collar one or two wolves in each pack and try to let communities know when wolves are detected in their areas, Chick said.

As sovereign nations in Colorado, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Tribe can decide whether to allow wolves on reservation land, Chick said. The tribes have not publicly announced their decision, he said.

If a tribe informs state wildlife officials that it does not want wolves, then wolves that move onto reservation lands will be captured and relocated a significant distance away to the north, Chick said.

SCLA board member Drew Gordanier said that ranchers on or bordering the reservation would benefit if Utes rejected wolves.

He urged farmers and ranchers to advocate that the wolves be managed under a 10-J Experimental category of the Endangered Species Act. The designation defined as an “experimental, nonessential” population allows for more management flexibility including lethal takings of wolves in certain situations.

The 10-J status decision needs to be made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife before the wolves are released, said Erin Karney, of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. Otherwise, the wolves will have the full protections of the Endangered Species Act, and ranchers would not benefit from the experimental population management tools.

Karney said CCA and ranchers are advocating for the Colorado legislature to pass a bill to provide funding for wolf reintroduction and to require a 10-J experimental designation before they are released.

Gordanier also encouraged ranchers to push for third-party verification on wolf kills of livestock, Gordanier said.

CPW does not always have enough staff to respond to the scene to confirm livestock predation by wolves, he said, which is needed for compensation.

“A program is needed that allows for knowledgeable unbiased people to also respond” and make that determination, Gordanier said.

Cooperative agreements are a potential option on that front, Chick said.

Gordanier also said it was important that CPW secure adequate budgets for wolf management and compensation programs for lost livestock. Payments to compensate ranchers for lost livestock must come at market value, he said.

CPW hunting fees cannot be used for wolf management unless the legislature changes the funding mechanism.

An audience member commented that governments from Front Range counties and cities that voted in favor of wolf reintroduction should help pay for its management and the compensation funding for ranchers who suffer livestock losses.

Summary of other discussions
  • Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin reported in 2022 there were 255 calls regarding livestock, including 115 for livestock on the road. The Sheriff’s Office assisted with six cattle drives and received 28 calls related to livestock neglect, and 124 calls for pet neglect. Nowlin urged ranchers and farmers to add their brand name on livestock panels and VIN numbers on trailers so they can be more easily recovered if stolen. There were 30 reported brush fires in the county in 2022, and 19 of them were controlled burns that got out of control, he said.
  • Montezuma County Commissioner and veterinarian Gerald Koppenhafer discussed new USDA rules that will make it more difficult for livestock owners to buy antibiotics for their animals. He said new federal rules that kick in this summer require antibiotics to be sold by prescription only at livestock pharmacies. “They won’t be available anymore at farm stores,” he said. A potential solution could be for farm stores to seek a pharmacy license that would allow them to sell the products.
  • Staff turnover and shortages were reported for the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Dolores Water Conservancy District. BLM Tres Rios field manager Connie Clementson has retired. San Juan Forest Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla will serve a 120-day detail as interim BLM Tres Rios Field manager while a permanent replacement is found. San Juan Forest hydrologist Shauna Jensen will serve as interim Dolores District Ranger on a 120-day detail.
  • Dolores Water Conservancy District has open control room positions for McPhee Dam operations. The National Resources Conservation Service office is at 50% staff.