Wolves, water, wildfire: Congressman Neguse hears from Kremmling residents on critical issues
On April 6, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse held a town hall with community members at the Kremmling Chamber of Commerce. During the meeting, residents spoke with Neguse about how his office can help them protect Grand County’s vast lands and ranches, which are under threat from future wildfires, the reintroduction of wolves and the shrinking Colorado River.
Neguse began by stating that coming to Grand County is meaningful for him, out of the many town halls and community meetings he attends. That’s because Kremmling gives young people a voice when legislators visit.
“Of all the public events … Grand County is the only one that has students first and foremost centered as part of our visit,” he said. “You’ve got a special group of leaders here … who are very focused on elevating the youth.”
Community members from the following organizations attended the town hall: Grand County government, Grand County EMS, the Kremmling Police Department, Kremmling Fire Department, Colorado State University Extension Hall, Kremmling town government, Kremmling Chamber of Commerce, the town’s public works and sanitation departments, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, West Grand School District, Middle Park Health, county commissioners, plus local ranchers and three West Grand students.
West Grand students had a chance to speak with Neguse about wolf reintroduction. Voters narrowly passed a 2020 ballot initiative to bring gray wolves back to Colorado. Beginning as early as December 2023, 10-15 wolves will be released on the West Slope, with annual releases for the next three to five years.
Although wolves won’t be reintroduced into Grand County, the county borders areas where wolves will be released. And wolves have been known to wander 50 miles away from sites they are released at. In fact, a pack of wolves living in nearby Jackson County migrated from Wyoming.
Middle schooler Luke Hickam spoke first, explaining that he thinks wolf reintroduction is dangerous for rural areas. Senior Carly Kellen agreed. Kellen, a small and big game hunter, feels that wolves will disrupt hunting, which is a way of life for many residents. Visitors also travel to Kremmling, known as The Sportsman’s Paradise, to hunt.
Next, senior and Future Farmers of America president Lily Butler presented her research on wolf impacts.
“I think it’s unreasonable to have wolves put back in Colorado when they’re already here,” she said. “It’s hard for small communities like ours, and ranchers that live out of town for their cattle being eaten.”
Butler stated that in Colorado, when a wolf kills a cow (known as depredation), the rancher is compensated only at market value. Ranchers are not compensated for the value of the future calves that the cow or heifer would produce throughout her lifetime.
Wolf depredations are compensated in the same way mountain lion and bears depredations are. This is because no management plan for wolves exists in Colorado. Parks and Wildlife is drafting a management plan for the official wolf population that will be reintroduced.
“It’s hard for the ranchers because they leave their cattle dogs outside to protect their cattle,” Butler said. “Ranchers in Jackson County are struggling a lot right now because of the wolves killing their cattle, killing their dogs.”
Butler stated that she feels West Slope residents should have a voice in whether wolves should be reintroduced.
“Because the people that are allowing the wolves are the people from the city, not as much the smaller, rural communities like ours,” she said. “We depend on cattle to feed our families, to feed the state.”
She added that urban residents don’t understand wolves’ effect on rural residents, which will be ground zero for wolves – and are already home to predators.
“A cougar got into my chicken coop here in town and killed over half my chickens,” Butler said. “If a wolf came into town, and if I was outside, I would be dead right now.”
She concluded that if wolves travel into cities, “they’re not going to want them, just like us.”
Neguse thanked the students for speaking.
“It’s encouraging to see young people at your age looking at the policy issues,” he said. “Your generation is far more serious than mine was.”
Neguse stated his office will “find a way to facilitate some conversations between folks who are deeply concerned, and rightfully so, with the realities of the state having to comply … with the will of the voters.”
According to Neguse, there have been many debates over the wisdom of the vote in Washington, but “the question now is how do you implement it with the least impact to the people who ultimately will be living with the consequences,” he told the students. “You’re right, it’s not going to be the people on the other side of the divide. It’s going to be you and your families.”
Neguse also discussed the wolf plan with Commissioner Merrit Linke, who is a member of the Technical Work Group for wolf reintroduction. Linke explained that once Parks and Wildlife institutes their management plan, it will include “multipliers,” or compensation to ranchers for indirect losses, such as potential calves.
Linke added that the state has asked federal authorities to institute the 10(j) rule under the Endangered Species Act, as part of the management plan. The 10(j) rule would allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials, ranchers, farmers and outfitters to legally kill wolves threatening livestock.
He requested if Neguse could work with his partners in Washington to ensure the 10(j) rule will be implemented in Colorado.
Neguse responded that he plans to work with commissioners across the West Slope on the 10(j) rule. He also has meetings planned with residents in Routt and Jackson counties.
As the Colorado River is strained by water users — from the Front Range to California — Kremmling residents fight to protect the river at the source. The headwaters for the Colorado River are in Grand’s backyard.
Dave Sammons, Kremmling town trustee, and his wife Chris Sammons (McElroy is her maiden name) own and operate one of the oldest ranches in Grand – the McElroy Ranch. The Colorado River, Muddy Creek and Blue River converge on the historic ranch, which includes a conservation easement to protect the land and water.
The Sammons are struggling to complete irrigation improvement projects on their waters, but costs have doubled since the project was first envisioned in 2020. Chris told Neguse that progress “has been broken.”
She stated that many other landowners along the stretch of river are in the same predicament as her.
“There’s a lot of river restoration projects, irrigation improvement projects, on this endangered river that are just in a holding pattern now,” she told Neguse. “We’ve got all kinds of willing partners, landowners. Every entity involved wants to see these improvements made, but we’re out of money.”
She added that Kremmling rancher Paul Bruchez is in conversations with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet to facilitate Colorado River projects. Federal funding from representatives such as Neguse is needed, alongside state support.
Neguse gave Sammons his contact information and stated that his office is in a good position to push forward these essential projects.
Her husband Dave added that demand for water from the Colorado River is increasing, pulling resources away from local residents.
“Seventy percent of all water that generates in Grand County goes to the Front Range,” he said. “There’s a straw everywhere you look … because water flows to money. It can go uphill, downhill, it’s gonna flow to money. We have the downstream users, we have the people on the Front Range that are very thirsty. Every bit of water that goes out of here benefits Grand County none.”
Commissioner Randy George agreed that Colorado is constrained by the Colorado River Compact, which apportions out water to seven states. George explained that Colorado does not use all their compact allotments, while states like California demand more.
“We are constrained by what comes out of the sky, not by what comes out of the reservoir,” he said. “We just want to advocate for Colorado in general and our county in particular.”
Commissioners thanked Neguse for his work thus far on wildfire mitigation. In March, Neguse helped relaunch the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus. The caucus’ goals are wildfire prevention, coordinated response to wildfire and community resilience. Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service is making efforts.
“The Forest Service has made this historic, generational investment that we’ve been fighting for, to try do some of this fuels treatment in our forests,” he said.
This investment includes treatment on the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests, which are partly in Grand County, “but a lot of those dollars are on the other side of the divide,” Neguse said.
He added that his office is fighting to move more mitigation projects to Grand County, which experienced the catastrophic East Troublesome and Cameron Peak Fires in 2020.
First responders and road infrastructure
Neguse also discussed a federal grant that is in the works for Grand County EMS. This potential grant will help EMS construct a new station in Granby and possibly Kremmling, since those stations are aging. Their Granby station was constructed in the 1940s.
EMS Chief Robert Good thanked Neguse for supporting his department. EMS offers many services for the community, such as CPR and first-aid classes, as well as programs for students.
“Our staff respond to almost 3,000 calls a year over 1,800 square miles,” Good said. “Our stations have lived their life and it’s time to move on and this (grant) would be very helpful.”
Neguse stated that his goal is to bring more community funded projects, like the EMS grant, to Grand County.
Lastly, Sheriff Brett Schroetlin discussed treacherous potholes on U.S. Hwy 40, which presents a public safety concern, aside from the risk of punctured tires.
“It causes people to swerve into traffic lanes to try to avoid potholes and we’re going to face a head-on (collision) at some point,” said Schroetlin.
Neguse stated that Colorado Department of Transportation is invested in repairs, and he will bring the issue up when he meets with CDOT representatives. Schroetlin conceded that one cause of the potholes is lack of staffing in the department.
“They don’t have people filling these spots,” he said. “It’s hard to plow snow at the same time as it is to fix potholes.”
Other topics the group discussed included the workforce shortage and its relation to the affordable housing crisis in Grand County, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and re-strengthening the United States military to leave the country a safer, more respected place for the younger generation.
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