Colorado Parks and Wildlife paid landowners nearly $450,000 last year for bears getting into beehives and killing cattle and sheep, mountain lions taking goats and elk eating hay and tearing down fences.
Now, for the first time, the state wildlife agency is paying for wolves killing a cow.
Jackson County rancher Don Gittleson said Colorado Parks and Wildlife paid him $1,800 for the 600-pound registered Angus calf that the state wildlife agency confirmed was killed by a pack of wolves on his ranch northeast of Walden in December. He said he is awaiting compensation for the two pregnant heifers he lost to the same pack in January.
“I got less for the calf than the show value, but I was willing to work with them,” Gittleson said. “They (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) are waiting on the heifers to make sure I don’t have any more losses .”
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A working cattle dog on a wildlife ranch also was killed by the pack, but the state agency said compensation has not been finalized for that loss.
The parents of the pack naturally migrated into the state from Wyoming over the last several years and had six pups last spring, which marked the first time in eight decades wolves are known to have produced young people in Colorado.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is required by a 90-year-old law to compensate ranchers, farmers and landowners for damage caused by big game animals — and now wolves — through its Game Damage Program. Compensation can include prevention materials (mostly fencing) and/or financial reimbursement.
However, there is a distinction between funding sources for other wildlife covered by the program and wolves.
The $447,000 the state wildlife agency paid out last year is funded entirely by hunting and fishing license revenue through an annual appropriation from its Game Cash Fund. The agency had nearly $1.3 million for such payments.
Compensation for wolf depredation will not use revenues generated by the sale of hunting or fishing license fees. Those funds will come from the general fund, Species Conservation Trust Fund, Colorado Nongame Conservation and Wildlife Restoration Cash Funds and other sources of funding for nongame species.
The wolf compensation funding sources were mandated by the wolf reintroduction ballot initiative (Proposition 114) that Colorado elected narrowly passed in 2020. It also calls for wolves to be reintroduced no later than the end of 2023.
Many sportsmen’s groups were against the reintroduction ballot initiative.
In addition, a bill signed by Gov. Jared Polis, as directed by Proposition 114, is using state general fund dollars to support gray wolf reintroduction. That amount for fiscal 2021-22 is $1.1 million, which is being used to develop the state’s wolf restoration and management plan.
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Wolf compensation a tricky conversation
The ballot initiative calls for “fair compensation” of wolf depredation on livestock, but the fairness of that compensation has caused lengthy discussions.
A Stakeholder Advisory Group, as part of the wolf plan, has discussed various compensation alternatives. The group is made up of members from Colorado with diverse backgrounds.
Those alternatives include:
- Paying 100% fair market value for confirmed kills and at least 50% of fair market value for probable depredations
- Compensation for missing livestock and/or indirect losses
- A multiplier/compensation ratio for the loss of the individual animal and other value of the animal
- Pay-for-presence program where landowners are paid an amount where wolves are present.
- Conflict minimization techniques
Colorado Parks and Wildlife said a final Stakeholders Advisory Group report on livestock damage compensation will be available soon at www.wolfengagementco.org/advisory-groups.
Rob Edwards, director of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, the group that spearheaded the reintroduction ballot initiative, said fair compensation is the right thing to do for wolves and for those who own livestock.
“There is no question there will be livestock depredation, so let’s figure out how to make it work day to day and move on,” he said. “We want to make sure wolves are covered because we are asking them to be restored. It will be a culture change and a long-term conversation, but I believe Colorado has the gumption to do it.”
Gittleson said he recently talked to the Stakeholders Advisory Group and told them compensation is a critical component of wolves sharing the land with livestock owners. He told the committee that if livestock owners don’t get adequately compensated for their losses or help with fixing the problem, reintroducing wolves will be set up to fail.
“If a rancher believes he lost livestock to wolves, the truth to him is wolves those animals and he will want to get compensated,” he said. “If he doesn’t get compensated he will take the situation into his own hands and the pro-wolf people won’t like the outcome.
“I’m good with fixing the problem, but there needs to be incentives and solutions — and probably both.”
Gittleson, with help from killed ranchers and the US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, erected turbo fladry, a thin electric fence with flagging, around his herd to prevent wolf attacks after his cattle were. He also has had volunteers help him watch the herd at night to haze wolves should they return.
Other Western states where wolves are present, such as Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, use a variety of measures to compensate livestock owners for wolf depredation.
A Technical Working Group consisting of wolf experts from across the West is assisting the Stakeholder Advisory Group on developing the plan to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado.
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Colorado Game Damage Program
Amount paid in damage claims last five years:
Here is a sampling of what the program paid for in damage claims in 2020:
Damage cost by claims:
- Livestock: 64%
- Crops (mostly hay and corn): 27%
- Beehives: 5%
Damage cost by species:
- Bear/mountain lion: 69%
- Elk/deer: 30%
Note: Colorado Parks and Wildlife does not pay for damages caused by ‘nuisance wildlife’ including coyotes, bobcats, foxes, muskrats, beavers and birds.
Source: Colorado Parks and Wildlife Game Damage Program
Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan purchasing by purchasing a digital subscription today.