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  • Dylan Anderson

With final wolf reintroduction plan approved, attention turns to federal 10(j) rule

Bill on Gov. Jared Polis' desk would prevent paws on the ground until the rule is in place, but he hasn't signed it yet.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approved the final wolf reintroduction plan last week. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife/Courtesy)

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approved the final wolf restoration and management plan last week, which would release wolves in an area that includes parts of South Routt County before the end of the year.

That isn’t a sure thing though, as a bill waiting for Gov. Jared Polis’ signature could delay reintroduction if Colorado Parks and Wildlife is unable to obtain a designation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would consider wolves in Colorado an experimental population.

It is unclear if Polis will sign that bill though, which was given final approval by the State House on May 3 and amendments were approved by the State Senate on May 4. The bill, sponsored by local legislators Sen. Dylan Roberts and Rep. Meghan Lukens, was not among 23 that Polis had signed on Saturday, according to Colorado Politics.

Agricultural organizations urged the governor to sign the bill in a press release on Saturday, noting that no other state has gone ahead with reintroduction of wolves without such a designation, known as a 10(j) rule.

“In order to mitigate the harm that will inevitably follow the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado, the state must have the capability to work in tandem with US Fish and Wildlife,” said Chad Franke, president of the Rocky Mountains Farmers Union. “We strongly urge Gov. Polis to sign this bill into law.”

Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Gibbs has said everything is on track to get the 10(j) rule before reintroduction, though it may still happen without it.

Without a 10(j) rule in place, wolves in Colorado would be considered an endangered species and enjoy the protections they currently do that forbid wolves from being killed unless threatening harm to a person. The 10(j) rule would apply to wolves that are part of the reintroduction effort and those that are already in the state. One of the wolves from the North Park pack that has been observed in recent years was spotted in Grand County at the end of April, according to Steamboat Radio.

The plan does consider the lethal removal of wolves a “corrective action” to conflicts with livestock, though the plan does outline various non-lethal methods that should be used first. It also says that killing wolves will only be used when in compliance with all state and federal laws. Without the 10(j) rule, it would not comply with the Endangered Species Act.

As outlined in the plan, ranchers and their agents would be able to kill a wolf if they observe it in the act of biting, wounding, grasping or killing livestock or working dogs. After such a kill takes place, ranchers would need to obtain a retroactive permit from Parks and Wildlife.

If wolves are considered “chronically depredating” — a term the agency has chosen not to define to allow more flexibility — then wildlife officers may opt to kill the wolves. This could be done by the agents themselves, or by issuing a limited permit to the rancher impacted.

“These permits will only be issued if state or federal agencies do not have the capacity to implement on-the-ground lethal actions themselves,” the plan reads.

Without the 10(j) rule, other non-lethal hazing techniques outlined in the plan may not be available to ranchers either. Some of the non-lethal techniques in the plan include fladry, range riders, livestock guardian dogs, rubber buckshot, rubber slugs and bean bag projectiles.

The plan contemplates what happens if wolves kill livestock or guard or herd animals, and creates a program to compensate ranchers for their loss with a cap of $15,000 per animal. Veterinary expenses are not included in that cap, and are independently capped at $15,000, meaning a rancher could receive up to $30,000 in total if wolves kill their animals.

As the plan states, a group of 10 to 15 wolves will be captured from another Western State and relocated to the northern release zone, which is generally considered the Interstate-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Vail. That zone does stretch up to Colorado Highway 134, which would include the South Routt community of Toponas.

While wolves would be released in this area, they are expected to spread all over the state, including on the east side of the Continental Divide.

CPW plans to release 30-50 wolves over the first three years of reintroduction. While a draft version of the plan would have alternated to the southern zone in the second year of release, the final plan says they could be released in or near either zone, depending on the efficacy of the first release. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe requested that releases only happen in the northern zone to slow their spread toward historical hunting grounds where elk populations are already struggling.

Once released, wolves will be monitored using GPS collars. The plan notes that success would mean wolves show a low mortality rate, they are able to successfully form breeding pairs that reproduce and form packs. Another indicator of success would be wolves born in Colorado are able to reproduce.

The plan also hopes that wolves will remain in Colorado and not venture out to surrounding states, some of which submitted comments to the agency during the process to craft the plan. If wolves do migrate beyond Colorado, the response would be done on a case-by-case basis.

“Such animals may be captured and relocated back to Colorado in the most efficient and effective manner,” the plan reads.


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