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Coloradans weigh in on state's wolf reintroduction plan

Colorado Parks and Wildlife held a public meeting in Gunnison on January 25 to get feedback on their draft plan on reintroducing wolves in western Colorado.
Kate Gienapp
Colorado Parks and Wildlife held a public meeting in Gunnison on January 25 to get feedback on their draft plan on reintroducing wolves in western Colorado.

"Nearly two years after Colorado voters narrowly passed Proposition 114 tasking Colorado Parks and Wildlife with reintroducing wolves on the Western Slope, the agency has a plan.

CPW has been holding meetings around the state to gather public comments on the draft before voting on a final version in May.

On January 25 they heard from people in Gunnison.

Two large areas have been proposed for consideration as wintertime release sites in western Colorado.

The first includes a northern area along the I-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Vail, extending down the Roaring Fork Valley.

The second, is the southern area along the Highway 50 corridor between Monarch Pass (east of Gunnison) and Montrose.

The plan aims to relocate 30 to 50 gray wolves from northern Rockies states over the next three to five years beginning in 2024.

While the measure narrowly passed statewide, 57% of Gunnison County voters opposed bringing wolves back to the state.

Some of the biggest concerns were expressed by ranchers in the valley at the January 25.

Many expressed concerns about the financial impacts of another apex predator on public lands.

The current draft plan calls for ranchers to get up to $8,000 for every animal killed by a wolf, but many in attendance at the Gunnison meeting said that’s simply not enough.

Dave Todd, who operates a ranch in northern Gunnison County, said compensation can be complicated.

When a herd is on the range and a cow is killed, there could be heavy snow or even areas that are inaccessible by horseback, and those delays could be detrimental to business.

"I saw very firsthand the devastation that coyotes can do on a herd last winter. It was devastating. Wolves are going to be worse," said Todd.

Doug Washburn of Spann Ranches in Gunnison told commissioners he too is worried about the proposal’s lack of funding.

"We're having these big in depth conversations about what we're going to do. And there's no money to do anything. Really putting the cart in front of the horse here,” he said.

Jason Peterson whose family has been ranching in Gunnison for generations said the profit margins for ranching are slim to begin with, and the presence of wolves could put them over the edge.

"Any undue burden on the cost of placing mitigation matters measures, adding riders, altering our operations will inevitably come closer to putting us out of business," said Peterson.

Even still, Peterson said one of the biggest misconceptions is that ranchers don’t care about wildlife like wolves, or conservation.

"We don't do it for the profits. We do this for our heritage, for our kids down the road, to preserve livestock, to care for livestock, to care for landscapes to help CPW manage the private ground and the public ground that all of our animals our game animals habitat on," he said.

Wolf advocates were also in attendance. Paula Woerner of WolfWood, a non-profit refuge for wolves and wolf/dogs outside of Bayfield spoke in support of reintroduction, despite trepidation from fellow volunteers.

"It was always a complicated conversation. What I don't think many people realize is how many animal advocates did NOT vote for reintroduction? Well over half of WolfWood volunteers and supporters voted against it," said Woerner.

Woerner told commissioners she has high hopes for humans and wolves to coexist in the state.

"I voted on the side of hope. I thought Colorado had a unique chance to do this right and to be a model. I have to believe we can do better. I took a chance on common sense and collaboration and thoughtfulness. I took a chance on you," she said.

The commission will approve a final Wolf Restoration and Management plan in early May at their meeting in Glenwood Springs.

Three more public meetings are taking place.

One in Rifle on February 7, one on zoom on February 16, and a final one in Denver on February 22.

The draft plan can be reviewed and comments submitted at engageCPW.org. The deadline for public comment on the draft plan is February 22.

This story from KBUTwas shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Kate Gienapp is the News Director at KBUT in Crested Butte. She joined KBUT as a Morning Edition host and reporter after working as a reporter and photographer for the local weekly paper, the Gunnison Country Times. Her work has also been published in the Gunnison Magazine and the Montrose Daily Press. She’s covered everything from local politics, public lands to arts and culture. Her favorite thing is listening to people tell her about what they love. When she’s not in the studio you can find her cross-country skiing with her dog Pippin.