Grand County commissioners prepare comments on wolf reintroduction plan
Grand County Commissioners are submitting their final comments regarding a proposed rule on lethal take for gray wolves, as the state prepares for their reintroduction.
In December, 2022, Colorado Parks and Wildlife released their reintroduction draft plan, which calls for releasing 10-15 gray wolves west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023 at the earliest, with continued annual releases for up to five years. A stakeholder advisory group and technical working group drafted the plan, with public input. Commissioner Merrit Linke, a fourth-generation rancher, is one of 17 members of the technical working group.
The draft plan has evolved based on public comment and expert review. However, several of the plan’s components are still shaky as agencies and Colorado residents spar over how to reintroduce the species. One point of contention is whether lethal take can be used when wolves threaten livestock. In response to this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed initiating the 10(j) rule of the Endangered Species Act.
The 10(j) rule would allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials, ranchers, farmers and outfitters to legally kill problem wolves. Under the proposed rule, gray wolves would be reintroduced as only threatened, not endangered, removing some of their stringent protections. Wolves are currently endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, despite a recent bill in the U.S. House to delist them.
“To me, that’s the biggest (requirement) of all – that the 10j needs to be in place, clearly understood and functioning before we bring in anymore wolves. So that it does give (Parks and Wildlife) the tools to actively manage them,” said county commissioner Merrit Linke.
Commissioner Randy George, who owns Latigo Ranch in Kremmling, agreed. George added there are three other essential concerns to include in commissioners’ comments. According to George, the reintroduction plan should clearly define: how much to compensate ranchers for livestock losses; what animals are considered livestock (such as whether working dogs are included); and how to sustainably fund long-term population management.
Commissioners stated that to prepare their comments, they will follow previous comments from Moffat County commissioners and the Colorado Cattleman’s Association, since their views align.
The reintroduction draft plan should be finalized this May. However, with so many stakeholders involved, disagreements over how to reintroduce wolves safely may prolong finalization.
Wolves are currently in Colorado, the result of a natural migration. From 2021 to 2023, wolves in North Park have killed five cows, three calves and two working dogs. Parks and wildlife is currently monitoring a breeding pair of North Park wolves, who have produced a litter of six pups. In 2020, officials observed a pack of six wolves in Moffat County, but this pack’s location is no longer known.
Other Feb. 21 meeting business
Red Dirt Hill safety project in design phase
The commissioners are requesting an update from Colorado Department of Transportation regarding the Red Dirt Hill safety project, for which the commissioners have previously committed $400,000. They budgeted this money in 2021, after CDOT’s safety improvements study recommended major changes to Red Dirt Hill. This stretch of road between Granby and Tabernash is known to be treacherous, especially in winter.
According to crash data collected in CDOT’s 2020 Red Dirt Hill study, there were 150 wrecks on Red Dirt Hill from January 2014 to June 2019, causing two fatalities.
Commissioners specifically want to learn where CDOT is in the design process for safety improvements, how CDOT will spend their $400,000 when the project will be completed and how the project can be additionally funded.
Commissioners have also applied for a RAISE grant to fund the project, which stands for “Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity.” The RAISE grant is offered through the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Commissioners added they will prioritize the Red Dirt Hill project and other US Highway 40 projects when they apply for grants.
Commissioners’ applaud Team Rubicon’s return
Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster response organization, will return to Grand County this summer to continue essential fire mitigation operations. In 2021, Team Rubicon began mitigation work in Grand County to prevent another disaster like the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. This summer, they will be on the ground from June 7-19.
Members of Team Rubicon are known as the “Greyshirts,” for their grey uniform shirts signaling they are performing disaster relief. The Greyshirts complete fuels reduction by removing hazardous trees around homes. This improves the home’s defensible space – a cleared buffer around the property where firefighters can safely work.
Alexis Kimbroug, director of Grand County’s Office of Emergency Management, told commissioners the Greyshirts will perform clearing projects by Shadow Mountain Estates north of Lake Granby and Pioneer Park in Hot Sulphur Springs.
“I would like to keep giving it forward because they’re doing so much work in our county,” Kimbroug said, requesting if commissioners could budget a $5,000 reimbursement for the work.
“It’s great work and I think the value that you put on this work was over a million bucks, that’s awesome,” Linke said.
Commissioners agreed to provide a $10,000 reimbursement window for the mitigation work to express their gratitude to the Greyshirts.
“They’ll go wherever they think in Colorado or the country that work is needed, but they also might know that they’re doing good work here and get treated really well here,” said Cimino.
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