For Grand County ranchers, no real way to mitigate for growing wolf numbers
For Sky-Hi News
For years now, wolves along the Colorado-Wyoming border have been providing thrills for one group of Coloradans and chills for another. Those who’ve been thrilled make up some of the 50.91% of mostly urban voters who in the 2020 state election checked the “yes” box to reintroduce them, and those chilled are some of the other 49.09% of largely rural voters who opposed reintroduction.
If one thing is for certain, Proposition 114 has proven to be one of the most controversial decisions in the state’s history. And in Grand County, it’s ranchers who are feeling the most unease about the reintroduction of an entirely new pack, which Colorado Parks and Wildlife intends to execute by Dec. 23, 2023.
In a recent incident involving wolves, a pack attacked a pregnant cow on State Line Ranch, located a stone’s throw from Colorado’s border, on March 18. Ranchers found the cow after it had been crippled by the wolves and had to put the animal down. Parks and Wildlife reimbursed the loss of the pregnant cow, but the damage had been done.
Though less widespread in Grand County, the presence of wolves has been detected here as well. Tim Ritschard, a fifth-generation rancher whose family owns and operates Ritschard Cattle Co. and who serves as president of the Middle Park Stock Growers, said wolves have been in the valley for years and that ranchers are going to have to adapt to their presence.
“It is what it is now; it’s just another issue we are gonna have to deal with,” Ritschard said during a recent break in calving on his ranch west Grand County. “Our cows run up to 10,000 feet in the summertime, and I don’t personally have time to go up there every day.”
If a wolf killed one of Ritschard’s cows, likely all he would find when he did get to his herd would be the animal’s ravaged carcass.
Merrit Linke, the Grand County commissioner who is part of the Technical Working Group for Gray Wolf Reintroduction with Parks and Wildlife, said that if wolves are to become part of Colorado’s ecosystem, there are going to be major conflicts in how wolves and humans interact.
Linke said he was not in support of Proposition 114 but felt it was important to join the Technical Working Group so that he could try to create the best outcome for everyone who lives in Northern Colorado.
“I can try to influence (the reintroduction) so that it’s a win-win,” he said. “If wolves can exist in Colorado, and we can safely and effectively manage them without negative interactions, I’m OK with that.”
Linke said he respects the wolf for its role in nature, but that he thinks Proposition 114 is not set to reintroduce wolves to the state in a positive way. “I don’t have a problem with the wolf per se; I have a problem with how it was done in Colorado. Because of the listing, it’s really complicated with how CPW is going to manage this.”
Parks and Wildlife is supposed to manage the reintroduction of gray wolves, yet according to Linke, they don’t have the adequate tools to do so effectively. One of the forms of management that Parks and Wildlife is not allowed to employ is euthanization.
“Lethal take is not an option — period — no matter how out of control a particular wolf is,” he said. “If a wolf is killing your cows every day, lethal control is not an option under the current rules.”
Even though the state is supposed to reimburse ranchers who lose cattle to wolves, being able to effectively manage wolf populations, and therefore prevent the loss of livestock in the first place, would save money and time for everyone involved.
Linke explained that the goal with lethal control is not to blast every wolf in sight but rather to remove a specific animal if it becomes too much of an issue for humans. Yet there are other potential management strategies Parks and Wildlife could employ, such as constructing electric fencing, hiring more people to watch over herds and employing guard animals. One ranch in Walden just incorporated wild burros, natural enemies to wolves, to help reduce wolf attacks.
But, as Linke pointed out, these are all extremely expensive, time consuming measures that may not even be that effective in the first place.
Linke stated that lethal control has to be an option to mitigate the wolf problem, because if it isn’t, then the state’s government will lose the faith of the people who make a living off the land.
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