The final wolf management plan must reflect the will of the people.
At the final public hearing on the proposed Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan, Defenders of Wildlife offered three key areas where the state’s management plan can be strengthened to ensure a self-sufficient wolf population and promote coexistence. In prepared remarks, Caitlin Cattelino, national outreach representative for Defenders of Wildlife, called for the removal of alarming language in the plan that could lead to hunting of a species that has yet to even be reintroduced into the state. She also called for increasing the delisting threshold substantially and for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Commission to do more to promote coexistence and greater outreach to the state’s ranching community. CPW is expected to work with agency staff to take public input into consideration as they write the final plan.
“The final wolf management plan must reflect the will of the people,” said Cattelino. “In 2020, Coloradoans voted overwhelmingly to reintroduce gray wolves, an iconic and formerly abundant native species, to the Centennial State. Alarmingly, the final phase of this draft plan would allow CPW to reclassify wolves as a game species and be hunted for sport, which clearly goes against the voters’ values. The possibility of hunting should be removed from the final plan. It is unacceptable to spend taxpayer money, time and energy into restoring this species just to enter another battle over how to kill them.”
Defenders further called for the management plan to live up to the principle of impact-based management, which she described as a “live and let live” approach. The proposed population levels will not support a complete recovery for the species, especially if protections are lifted upon delisting. During her remarks, Cattelino also reiterated one of Defenders’ core priorities, that the state must prioritize coexistence measures to navigate the nuanced cultural aspects of wolf management, which go back centuries in the American West. With wildlife habitat increasingly overlapping with a patchwork of working lands, public parks, and highways, conflict is bound to occur. The plan’s success will depend on how the state, conservation groups, and the ranching community react to conflict and work together to prevent it.
Highlighting how inconsistent and weak management can exacerbate the issues surrounding human and wolf interaction, Cattelino pointed to the Northern Rockies, where extreme management swings burdened wolf advocates, ranchers, and hunters alike.
“We can learn from the 25 years of science and experience we gleaned from wolf management in the Northern Rockies and make Colorado a leader in wolf restoration. We need a revised plan to meet the needs and concerns of all stakeholders. Right now, we have a chance to carve a path in the middle and work together towards a shared vision to not only coexist but thrive on a shared landscape.”
Commissioners are expected to vote on a final wolf plan at their meeting in Glenwood Springs in early May. Because wolves are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is leading a concurrent process to write a federal rule guiding wolf management in Colorado. The federal process is expected to finish in time for the anticipated wolf releases in December 2023.