DENVER (CN) - In just three months, Colorado plans to release a pack of wolves along the Western Slope of Colorado where the apex predator was hunted to extinction nearly 80 years ago. On Friday the federal government published a draft rule to designate Centennial state wolves an experimental population making a rare allowance for lethal management of an endangered animal.
"This demonstrates a sincere and effective commitment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to accomplish this task on a very accelerated timeline," said Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Jeff Davis in a statement.
A slim 50.91% of Centennial State voters in 2020 supported the measure to reintroduce wolves. The proposition backed by conservationists received strong criticism from residents and ranchers along the rural Western Slope, which happens to be ideal wolf habitat.
The gray wolf, Canis lupus, was first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974. Because wolves are a protected species, the state must move in sync with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agency first proposed complementary rules in February that include lethal management under certain conditions.
The federal government also has the power to designate the wolves in a way that would relax enforcement of the Endangered Species Act to give the state flexibility in management and implement lethal wolf takes. That measure, referred to as the 10(j) rule under the Endangered Species Act, is supported by landowners who worry about wolves attacking cattle.
The federal government received 20,000 public comments regarding Colorado's request to list wolves under the 10(j) rule.
While wolves kill less than 1% of livestock annually, that risk can threaten 100% of a rancher's livelihood.
The Fish and Wildlife Service must consider two alternative plans as well as what would happen if it took no action at all. The agency's preferred alternative would designate all wolves living in Colorado a threatened, rather than endangered, experimental population subject to lethal enforcement under the 10(j) rule.
The second alternative would consider the handful gray wolves already living in Colorado separate from those being brought in from out of state. Under the second plan, only newly introduced wolves would be considered experimental and subject to lethal management.
Both plans allow wolves in designated areas to be killed in self-defense, or if they attack livestock and working dogs. The plan also approves nonlethal but intentional harassment of wolves.
Fish and Wildlife supported the first alternative claiming it gave the most flexibility "while allowing for the conservation of the species."
The government said the second alternative offers less management flexibility, since it would restrict which wolves are subject to lethal management.
The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group, has long opposed lethal management of wolves.
"After clinking our glasses in a toast to the wolves in their new home, we'll closely monitor wolf management to ensure the budding population is allowed to thrive without persecution," said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement.
Instead of sanctioning lethal management, Robinson said the government should mandate the use of nonlethal measures.
The federal government indicated the most significant consequences of denying the request altogether are social. The agency found denying the request for lethal management outright would generate "the lowest social tolerance for wolves in Colorado."
Under the state's final reintroduction plan, ranchers will be compensated up to $15,000 for livestock killed by wolves. Colorado will also cover veterinary expenses for herding animals injured by wolves.
During a commission meeting last month, state officials said December snows will make it easier to catch the wolves they hope to import from the Pacific northwest. The state is also building up a stockpile of fladry and encouraging landowners to train in non-lethal techniques.
The final rule will be published after a legally mandated 30-day waiting period.
Source: Courthouse News Service