Advice: Collaboration between Colorado ranchers and wolf advocates is key to a successful reintroduction

Recent livestock depredations by gray wolves were expected in two northern Colorado counties. Predation by carnivores is well known, and ranchers already deal with predation on livestock by bears, cougars and coyotes and understand what livestock loss means from other factors. Disease, weather and calving problems also take their toll every year.

But the losses to wolves and other carnivores are hitting individual farmers hard.

How well we are prepared for wolves is debatable. Many in Western Slope counties described the trust-busting wolf release as shrouded in secrecy and chastised Colorado Parks and Wildlife, or CPW, for its selection of wolves from known livestock packs in Oregon. The recent attacks have left some Colorado producers feeling betrayed and calling for the lethal removal of the offending wolves.

However, CPW staff, wildlife advocates, and ranchers have not only prepared for wolves since the CPW Commission approved the Wolf Management Plan, but have also worked with Colorado ranchers by providing information, conflict prevention tools, financing, and other support.

While wolf advocates and ranchers may seem unlikely allies, together we represent the possibilities that emerge from cooperation, not conflict. A promising path forward is emerging that reflects the collective efforts of ranchers, CPW, and wolf advocates that will contribute to the successful recovery and management of gray wolves in Colorado.

For example, a diverse community has come together in North Park to install conflict prevention tools such as fladry, a row of bright flags, and to provide other support to individual farmers. We gathered to pound stakes and string together fladry on snow-covered fields to show support for landowners, and hopefully tolerance.

What has united us is the common desire to support livestock farming livelihoods during and after the calving season, while embracing the opportunity to build community. What has connected us is respect for each other and the belief in cooperation. This unique collaboration between diverse interests to promote goodwill and trust may seem like an extraordinary event, but kindness and consideration should not be shocking to anyone.

Ranchers and wolf advocates want to minimize livestock losses. Building tolerance now is imperative if we want wolves to have the opportunity to fulfill their ecological role while working with ranchers to conserve shrinking wild areas.

By viewing these depredations as opportunities rather than disasters, we can prepare for the long-term presence of wolves in Colorado. We must build community around the shared goal of minimizing conflict with livestock and focusing on programs to prevent conflict.

In 2023, CPW installed more than five miles of fladry at four locations, installed fox lights at eight properties, used cracker shells to cloud wolves in North Park and held more than a dozen meetings with producers and the public specifically on conflict mitigation .

So far this year, CPW has installed more than five miles of fladry at four sites, deployed sixty fox lights at thirteen locations, deployed ten deterrents, issued four hazing permits, equipped four warehouses with conflict reduction tools across the state, and plans to expand four more expected. the fall. CPW also hires wildlife conflict coordinators for the state.

Others — like the Colorado Department of Agriculture, USDA’s Wildlife Services and nonprofits including the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, Defenders of Wildlife, Working Circle and Western Landowners Alliance — are showing up. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project has already generated more than $260,000 through its Born to Be Wild special license plate, which raises money to support ranchers with the tools and expertise to reduce conflict with wolves. Grants through the Natural Resources Conservation Service will be available to support distance driving, carcass management and electric fencing programs in the state.

The number of farmers concerned with minimizing conflict is growing. Such practices include grazing management, low-stress herding, range riding, fladry, night pens and herding dogs. Ranchers don’t have to be victims or powerless bystanders. These measures take effort, but serious effort is all we can ask for as we learn to live with wolves.

Moving forward with a wolf management plan that defines success through collaboration provides us with a roadmap for the successful management of all wildlife species. Many of us in this state are willing to work together, so let’s talk about the good stories too.

These collaborations could mark the beginning of mutual respect, tolerance and the acceptance that wolves and humans so desperately need.

Philip Anderson of Walden is a past president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and lives on his family’s ranch.

Courtney Vail of Rico is a wildlife biologist who co-owns a small farm and serves on the board of directors of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project.

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