Gray wolves are back on the federal endangered species list. Here’s what it means for Colorado


If wolves are now under federal protection, will Colorado continue with its predator reintroduction plans?

Yes. Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Travis Duncan said state biologists will continue to work to achieve the goals outlined in Proposition 114, the ballot initiative that Colorado voters endorsed. narrowly in 2020. This requires “paws on the ground” somewhere on the western slope by the end of 2023. .

There is a big difference now: these plans must obtain authorization from the federal government.

“While CPW will continue its planning efforts to meet legal timelines, reintroduction will require a close partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service,” Duncan wrote in an email response. “Their permitting requirements and process will need to be followed as they assume management control of the species in Colorado.”

Will the federal government allow Colorado to continue its wolf reintroduction work?

This is what environmental groups want. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service allows special designations for “experimental populations” under the Endangered Species Act. If Colorado gets the designation, it could help the federal government manage wolves. Tom Delehanty, associate attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the program could be a way for Colorado to stick to its predator reintroduction plans.

“If Governor Polis is proactive, it should be fairly straightforward for the federal government to issue such a permit,” Delehanty said.

Mike Phillips, a wolf biologist and director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, an animal conservation group, added that the legal structure has been integral to previous reintroduction efforts. Since the 1980s, wolves have been released in Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Carolinas as “experimental populations.”

“There’s nothing new here. In fact, it’s a better-known road to progress than Colorado doing it on its own,” Phillips said.

What about the wolves already living in Colorado? Is the State still in charge of the management of these animals?

With federal protections restored, Colorado no longer has any jurisdiction over gray wolves already living in the state. All wolf management decisions now rest with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

This change comes after a pack recently established itself north of Steamboat Springs. On Wednesday, state biologists attached a tracking collar to a wolf born in the area. Under the new court ruling, state wildlife teams can no longer legally capture other wolves without federal permission.

Duncan of Colorado Parks and Wildlife said the state has no immediate plans to collect more wolves since the animals are about to reach their breeding season. State biologists plan to work with federal colleagues on similar efforts in the future.

Can ranchers protect their livestock under federal protections?

It’s not clear yet, but probably not. After wolves killed several cows and a dog in Jackson County, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approved emergency rules allowing the “hazing” of wolves. The policy allowed ranchers to use non-lethal tools and methods to scare wolves away from livestock, including sound cannons and rubber bullets.

The federal endangered species law effectively blocks these state hazing rules. If ranchers feel the need to scare wolves, Duncan said they should contact regional US Fish and Wildlife offices in Denver or Grand Junction.

“Tools such as rubber buckshot, cracker shells and other projectile tools should no longer be used until clear instructions of [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] is provided,” Duncan said.


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