CPW Commission votes to follow staff recommendation on nighttime aids for wolves caught in the act

WINTER PARK, CO, June 13, 2024 — The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission met June 12 and 13 and approved the use of nighttime aids when used in the legal, permitted lethal take of gray wolves in the act of attacking livestock or working dogs. The rule would authorize the livestock owner to use artificial light, electronic night vision equipment, electronically enhanced light-gathering optics, and thermal imaging devices. Currently, livestock owners are allowed to use such technologies to conduct non-injurious hazing. The Commission also approved the addition of pooled livestock owners in eligibility for permits and compensation and the inclusion of Bison in livestock species eligible for loss compensation.

Multiple commissioners clarified that the burden of lethally removing chronic depredating wolves would fall to CPW or federal agencies rather than livestock producers.

Commissioner Dallas May said he was initially opposed to the use of nighttime aids based on his experience with hunters spotlighting deer and other wildlife at night and poaching them. He said he spent the day with Tim Rischard and Doug Broche in Middle Park and gained firsthand knowledge of the technology in use and the ability to record, something he said would be irrefutable proof of caught in the act.

“I have gone from being a skeptic of this to thinking it’s a tool that will not only benefit producers, it will benefit the wolves,” May said.

Commissioner Marie Haskett said livestock producers don’t want to be the one to shoot a wolf.

“Wolves hunt at night at (producers) need protection,” she said. “They’ve already lost a lot of livestock. I don’t think we can put more cost on them to require that they have certain technologies. We’ve already put enough burden on them. They’re not the ones breaking the law, either.”

Haskett said she has concerns that continued refusal to assist ranchers with problem wolves will cause people to take matters into their own hands. It will not be, she said, the ranchers, but others who, like in Oregon, have contributed to a significant problem with the poisoning of wolves.

“There was an Oregon poisoning case we listened to in our Commissioner meeting that poisoned a stream, they had to decontaminate a helicopter, they had to decontaminate staff, it killed a lion, it killed an eagle, and a lot of other things,” she said. “It’s happening regularly there because they’re not getting the help they need. I don’t want Colorado to come to that point. Think about what happens if we don’t help.”

Commissioner May agreed. He said he learned from his visit to Middle Park that night aids with the ability to record bear a price tag of no less than $8,000.

“That goes to my thought earlier that the State of Colorado asked for this, and that’s a cost producers should not have to bear,” May said.

Commissioner Jay Tutchton said he has reservations about allowing nighttime aids for the removal of chronically depredating wolves by producers. He said he is supportive of requiring nighttime aids with the ability to record, though he recognized the equipment costs considerably more than the livestock the rancher is attempting to protect.

According to counsel, the burden of proof lies with the state rather than requiring the producer to record the event in order to prove that the removal was in the act and they are not guilty of breaking the law. Counsel clarified that the producer must meet the requirements for the permit and the Commission would have the ability to condition the permit to include required recording.

Commissioner Haskett said she does not believe the livestock producers will be the ones that will illegally kill wolves.

“I don’t believe we need to put any additional burdens on (ranchers,)” she said. “I don’t believe any of them are going to shoot a wolf not caught in the act. They don’t want to be that person and they don’t want to be the first person to do it anyway. Put yourself in their shoes.”

Director Jeff Davis cautioned the Commission not to jump directly to the worst-case scenario.

“That’s a little tiny fraction of people who choose not to follow the rules and I would hate to cast the broader folks that we’re really talking about here into the lowest common denominator because that is not my experience in all the ranchers I’ve spoken with,” Davis said. “They take this very seriously and I think Commissioner Haskett is right, none of them want to be that person and they quite frankly don’t want to be in that situation in the first place.”

He said the ranchers are under “a lot of risk and uncertainty everyday” and Colorado voters wanted the state to carry the burden rather than the ranchers.

“This can’t be something that runs our ranchers off the landscape,” Davis said. 

Grand County Commissioner Merritt Linke said the use of nighttime aids is important though a plan is vital. He said in less than six months, an additional 15 wolves will be released although these issues are still under discussion with little clarity.

“Is that a good idea when we have all these unclear things we’re working on, we have unanswered questions, we don’t have clear definitions, we don’t have a goal defined, we don’t have plan clearly defined, we don’t even know how success for the wolf will be clearly defined,” Linke said. “Isn’t that a problem that we don’t have answers for those questions?”

Linke asked if Colorado was on “a runaway train” where some other states are, struggling to manage wolves that are at a population several times the size of the original goal.

Don Gittleson, a Jackson County rancher, said he asked the question about the use of nighttime aids with the intention of it being used only for caught in the act rather than in permitted situations to remove problem wolves. He said CPW ought to be able to handle the removal of wolves themselves or with the assistance of Wildlife Services.

Darlene Kobobel said ranchers need to work harder when they raise domestic animals in wild territory in the presence of predators.

Conway Ferrell, a Grand County rancher said wolves have been causing nonstop damage to his operation and family for the past several months.

“As for chronic depredation, five separate events, seven kills, four pregnant cows in six days, two dead calves 30 yards apart, two missing calves, one missing ewe…if this ain’t chronic depredation, what is,” Ferrell said. “In the last week, we’ve had four different sightings of the wolves within 300 yards of people in broad daylight, guys out irrigating, guys out fixing fences, these animals are not afraid of people and they are focused primarily around livestock.”

Ferrell asked if CPW wasn’t ready to follow the Wolf Management Plan, why they released the wolves. He said he encourages CPW and the Governor to follow all the Wolf Management Plan, not just the plans “they want to.”

“The mismanagement of wildlife in Grand County has caused a ton of stress, mental anguish, distrust, and to put it plainly to you, has made my family life hell,” he said. “The stress on the CPW employees, the ranchers, and this community is something that cannot be fixed. This has now led to locked gates and an end to a lifetime worth of relationships.”

Ferrell said they’ve used foxlights, range riders, continuously moving cattle away from wolves, carcass management, and other nonlethal deterrents. He said the range rider shot cracker shells to scare away a wolf and shot them six times before the wolf left the area.

Doug Bruchez said his family was the first to have a confirmed wolf depredation in Middle Park on April 2 and said ranchers are living and sleeping with their cattle to protect them, making ranching a 24-hour per day job.

“This has taken a toll on producers both mentally and physically,” he said. “I, myself, was put on blood pressure medication due to lack of sleep and acute stress.”

He said nighttime aids, especially thermal cameras, are necessary tools for the law-abiding ranchers trying to protect their livestock.

“I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but the lack of collaboration to find solutions from CPW about the two chronically depredating wolves in the Williams Fork Valley has created an atmosphere of distrust and more conflict. CPW has not held up their end of the bargain. The concept of coexistence cannot exist when management is nonexistent.”

He said he found a cow’s carcass in January that, knowing what he now knows, was a wolf kill but it was not confirmed based on collar data. He said the District Wildlife Manager did not skin the cow, which is protocol, and Bruchez said the DWM had not yet been trained to complete depredation investigations, leaving them unprepared for what happened.

Lee Bruchez, a Grand County rancher, said his daughters are no longer allowed to ride horses, fix fence, and check cows as they normally would without an adult due to the danger posed by wolves.

“Several months ago, I watched my father stand above a calf killed by a relocated wolf,” he said. “It was as if I watched his entire life flash before him. It has all come down to CPW, Colorado government, and uneducated voters directing my family’s lives and future. This is unacceptable.”

He said hundreds of questions about which data points are driving decisions about wildlife management are going unanswered, leading him to one conclusion.

“CPW, under Jeff Davis’ weak leadership, has now become a partisan, political machine because continued decision making without data and facts leads me to believe wherever there is Colorado government, there is corruption,” he said. “I demand decisions be made on facts, not feelings.”

Chair Dallas May pointed out more than once that the term generous compensation, frequently quoted by wolf supporters in justifying losses, is quite the opposite.

May said the depredation begins the process of proving the loss was a result of wolves, carcass removal, completing paperwork, proving the value of the loss, rather than seeing her fulfill her potential as a productive member of the herd.

“So, I’m sorry but I’m always offended when I hear generous compensation for losses because there is no generous compensation for losses,” he said. “It’s a loss and you’re going to get the bare minimum for what you lost when the things you’re missing out on, the future production of that heifer can never be compensated for.”

The comment was applauded.

The state’s four Regional Wildlife Managers told the Commission they supported the rule change to allow nighttime aids and did not support the requirement to record using those tools. Travis Black said some conditions make it more difficult to find evidence in the field of attacks, but they are trained investigators and recording is unnecessary and difficult to put into place.

Chair May said in his time on the Commission, he hasn’t ever had all four Regional Wildlife Managers before him making a recommendation.

“This is common ground,” he said. “Both sides of this issue should be able to come together on this because this is specifically what we spoke about when we adopted the (Wolf Management) Plan and that is targeted lethal management where required. As opposed to Phase 4, which we did not adopt, which would have basically been a public hunting season on wolves. This is targeted lethal control, which is what we asked for and I hope the gravity of this situation is not lost on people.”

A motion was made to amend staff recommendations to only allow nighttime aids for depredation caught in the act, but not for permitted chronic depredation. The motion failed on a 5-5 vote. Commissioner Haskett made a motion to accept the recommendation of staff, which passed 

Source: National Pork Producers Council