DENVER–The Colorado Secretary of State approved a ballot initiative requiring the state reintroduce the gray wolf to Colorado for signature gathering on June 21. This has raised alarms among ranchers as to how they would be compensated for livestock lost to wolves should the measure pass.
The proponents of the measure are Gail Bell of Aurora and Lake George resident Darlene Maria Kobobel, CEO of the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (CWWC), located northwest of Divide.
According to the CWWC website, the facility currently houses 16 wolves or wolf-hybrids, including two Mexican gray wolves, and a number of different species of foxes. Possession of full-blooded wolves is closely regulated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service because they are still listed an endangered species, although the government is proposing delisting them.
The proponents will have to gather at least 124,632 valid signatures from registered Colorado voters by this Dec.13 to be placed on the ballot.
Kobobel’s initiative, #107, requires the state to begin reintroduction of wolves by Dec. 31, 2023.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPWC) is required by the initiative to undertake the process “notwithstanding any provision of state law to the contrary,” including a specific existing statute that requires the Colorado legislature to pass a bill naming the species and specifying how it is to be reintroduced for any endangered species.
The initiative would be a statutory addition, not a state constitutional amendment, meaning it needs 50 percent plus one of the vote to pass, and that lawmakers can later amend the measure if enacted, as with any other state law.
Colorado has been considering the impacts of wolves in Colorado for decades in anticipation of natural migration from packs established in states including Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.
Since 1974, when the gray wolf was listed as endangered, recovery efforts in those states have resulted in a robust and healthy wolf population exceeding 6,000 in the lower 48 states. There are tens of thousands of wolves in Canada and Alaska, and many more worldwide.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says on its website that the gray wolf, “now…roams free in nine states and is stable and healthy throughout its current range. This constitutes one of the greatest comebacks for an animal in U.S. conservation history. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is re-affirming the success of this recovery with a proposal to remove all gray wolves from protection under Endangered Species Act (ESA).”
There have been recent confirmed sightings of lone wolves in Colorado, indicating that natural pack dispersion is already underway.
The Colorado Division of Parks & Wildlife (CDPW) Wolf Management Working Group’s 2004 recommendations were adopted by the CPWC in May, 2005. The plan goals include “acceptance of a wolf presence in Colorado” contingent on being able to deal with potential or actual conflicts with humans, livestock, big game and habitat impacts as well as close management and monitoring of wolves and livestock depredation and both compensation and deterrence funding for ranchers.
The proposed initiative requires payment of “fair compensation” for wolf depredation from the wildlife cash fund. But the existing wildlife damage compensation law cited in the ballot measure says only that the state “shall attempt to reach an agreement with the claimant upon an amount of settlement.” If no agreement can be reached the claimant has to sue the state for damages in small claims court, where the limit on damages is $7,500, and there is no guarantee of success.
The problem, says J. Paul Brown, former District 59 state representative, former La Plata County Commissioner and livestock grower in Antonito, is that historically, getting compensation is a difficult, slow and uncertain process that all too often yields nothing in the states where compensation is available.
While Colorado has no dedicated system for compensation for wolf-caused livestock depredation yet, ranchers in other mountain-region states, including Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and now California say their versions are far from fair.
In Oregon, the regulations for the state’s compensation program require the rancher to provide extensive documentation to the state and a forensic examination of the carcass and scene by state biologists to look for evidence like subcutaneous bruising and bite marks proving wolves killed the animal rather than simply scavenging on animals that died for other reasons, a not uncommon occurrence.
Ranchers, if they even find a dead animal before it’s been completely consumed and the evidence needed to prove wolves killed the animal destroyed, must report the death immediately. They must “protect the scene” to preserve evidence for wildlife officers and “document that other possible causes for their animals to be missing have been eliminated.”
In order to apply for compensation ranchers also have to “demonstrate to the county advisory committee that they have implemented best management practices to deter wolves, including reasonable use of nonlethal methods when practical.”
From 2012 to date Oregon has paid $107,894 in direct livestock loss compensation, and $1.1 million in total for its program. The totals show a steady upward trend, starting at $82,970 in 2012 to $160,890 in 2018.
In 2019 Oregon allocated $504,688 towards requests, and as of June has paid out $112,219.
Ranchers say that these awards are a pittance compared to actual losses and that the extreme requirements for proving wolf-caused depredation mean that far more animals are killed by wolves than are compensated for.
Brown told Complete Colorado of an incident where wolves chasing a herd of about 2,400 sheep belonging to the Siddoway Sheep Co. drove 176 of them off of a cliff in southeastern Idaho on Aug. 17, 2013.
Cindy Siddoway, a principle in the company, told Complete Colorado that the company did not receive any compensation for the loss, which she estimated was about $30,000.
The federal government does not offer livestock loss compensation. There are programs similar to Oregon’s in some other states, while some states offer no compensation at all, and at least one environmental group has paid for some losses.
An attempt to reach Ms. Kobobel for comment was not returned as of press time.