Dec 15, 2022 - News

When to kill wolves is full of controversy in Colorado's new plan

A gray wolf in captivity. Photo: Dawn Villella/AP

A gray wolf in captivity. Photo: Dawn Villella/AP

Much like a 2020 measure to reintroduce wolves into the Colorado wild, the latest plan to make it happen is drawing intense scrutiny and controversy.

The intrigue: This time, it's the measure's supporters who are crying foul, not its critics.

Driving the news: Vocal environmental organizations are criticizing the draft plan from Democratic Gov. Jared Polis' administration, saying it's too easy for officials and cattle ranchers to kill wolves that harass, harm or destroy livestock.

  • "This plan paves the way for far too many wolves to be shot, even on public lands," Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
  • Lindsay Larris at WildEarth Guardians — a nonprofit pushing for a prohibition on killing wolves — said the latest plan "falls short of charting a course toward meaningful restoration."

Why it matters: The reaction from environmentalists builds pressure on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to make changes ahead of a final vote in May, and raises the political stakes.

What to know: Killing wolves is permissible in self-defense. But it wouldn't be allowed when a pet or hunting dog is attacked, per the plan. In other situations, the proposed guidelines are murkier.

  • The presence of wolves is not permission for livestock owners to kill them, and if they harass or bite livestock, lethal means would be allowed in rare situations.
  • A landowner needs a permit and evidence of wolves hurting livestock to kill the animals on private property or public land leased for grazing, the rules state.
  • However, federal and state agents can kill wolves that repeatedly attack livestock, impede on other wildlife management or potentially conflict with human activities.

Of note: Ranchers who can provide evidence of wolves killing their herding animals, cattle, horses, sheep or other livestock can receive up to $8,000 per animal from the state.

The other side: Center for Biological Diversity advocates say the plan creates a financial incentive for the state to keep wolf populations low to avoid costly payments to ranchers. Instead, they want the state to help ranchers take preventative measures to avoid conflicts.

  • Other environmental groups argue the guidelines are too vague and want to see non-lethal means used.
  • "Multiple scientific studies have shown that killing wolves does nothing to reduce livestock losses, and a new study from Alaska shows that … killing wolves doesn't increase hunter success either," said Michael Saul, Western Watersheds Project's Colorado director, in a statement.

What to watch: If the legal status of Colorado wolves changes as the population increases, the authority to kill them will increase, state officials note.

  • Environmentalists say removing wolves from Colorado's endangered and threatened lists when they reach a population of 200 would hurt genetic sustainability. Their research suggests the population needs to hit 750 wolves to secure the species’ future in Colorado.

Editor's note: The Center for Biological Diversity is an Axios Denver advertiser. The group had no involvement in the reporting of this story.

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