Newly released wolf's carcass found in Larimer County; Ranchers' request for lethal removal of depredating wolves denied

April 24, 2024

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed one of the 10 recently released wolves has been found dead in Larimer County of apparent natural causes.

Found on April 18, the USFWS is investigating and has sent the carcass for a necropsy to determine the cause of death. According to a spokesman, USFWS is working cooperatively with Colorado Parks and Wildlife in an investigation and a final determination on the animal's death will be made following the necropsy. USFWS said that a mountain lion could be at fault as a natural cause.


Letters from various stakeholder groups asking CPW to lethally remove two wolves that they say are chronic depredators, save for a comment from Gov. Jared Polis' spokesperson, were finally answered, though denied, late on April 23.

The Middle Park Stockgrowers were the first to request the removal of two wolves that are responsible for six depredations through a letter sent April 18 and a second request on April 22.

CPW Director Jeff Davis told the group he recognizes that ranchers and CPW staff have experienced "challenging" times with a "lack of quality sleep at a critical

time for your operations" at the same time the agriculture industry is dealing with "other challenges."

"Please know that CPW takes our responsibilities to and our relationships with ranchers and the industry very seriously. We cannot accomplish our mission to perpetuate wildlife without these strong partnerships. It’s not lost on me that these very tense times are putting a great deal of strain on our relationships. We hope that no matter what, we can continue to work together to successfully avoid and minimize impacts on the agricultural industry while restoring wolves to Colorado."

Davis said the wolf that could be "implicated in these depredations is the male of a pair that we believe to be denning." He said GPS points from the female’s collar indicate that she is likely in a den. In early April, GPS points stopped uploading and very recently those points began to upload again. The points for this female's collar are showing a very localized position. The biological interpretation of this is that she was likely in a den during the time when connectivity with the collar was interrupted, which aligns with the expected timing of wolf reproduction. This would be the first den from wolves reintroduced to Colorado.

"Removing the male breeder at this point would be irresponsible management and potentially cause the den to fail, possibly resulting in the death of the presumed pups. This is not a desirable result and I am therefore not going to take action at this time to lethally remove this animal."

Davis told the group the wolf population in Colorado is far below any restoration goal, and CPW has the legal duty to establish a self-sustaining population of wolves while minimizing conflict risk. Any consideration of lethal removal will be carefully deliberated to ensure it does not conflict with these legally mandated restoration goals. As the wolf population in Colorado grows, and as we get to points where we enter different management phases, the approach to lethal removals will likely become more liberal."

Davis said "some other states have quantitative metrics to define chronic depredation, it is important to understand that simply meeting that metric does not necessarily initiate lethal removal. An evaluation of the circumstances, including an evaluation of the status of the entire wolf population, informs decisions on wolf management. As you are aware, Colorado’s Wolf Restoration and Management Plan does not have a quantitative definition of what constitutes chronic depredation. This was intentional, and results directly from the recommendations of the Stakeholder Advisory Group. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission will be considering whether it is advisable to modify the plan to quantitatively define chronic depredation, and if so what that definition should be, at the Commission meetings this summer."

Davis said since CPW staff began working with the affected ranchers to deploy conflict minimization tools in this area, depredation has ceased, at least for the time being.

"We are prioritizing this geography for deployment of more conflict minimization tools in the immediate future and expanding their availability to other willing landowners."

Davis also clarified that the state does not have a definition of chronically depredating wolves, and said "to continue to state that we brought known problem wolves into the state is a falsehood" but doubled down on the 10 released wolves not hailing from chronically depredating packs.

"Where wolves and livestock share the landscape, there will be conflict. We will hold tight to the recommendations of the TWG and what is stated in our plan that we will not bring currently chronically depredating wolves into the state."

"I know that you will not be satisfied with the determination to not lethally remove wolves at this time, and I hope that you understand that we are working to implement the state’s Wolf Restoration and Management Plan and to implement state statute, while also working diligently to address the conflicts that livestock producers experience," he said. "It has proven to be a tremendously difficult and challenging task for all involved."

Multiple letters of support followed from the North Park Stockgrowers, who represent the area where Don Gittleson ranches. Gittleson's request to remove two other wolves after repeated cattle and working dog deaths and attacks was also denied in December. Other letters included groups like the Colorado Woolgrowers, Grand County Sheriff Brett D. Schroetlin, Middle Park Cowbelles, and Yuma County Cattlemen.

A statement from Gov. Polis' Press Secretary Shelby Wieman read:

"It is widely known that wolves are opportunistic hunters and Colorado voters were fully aware of the diet of wolves and made the decision to reintroduce wolves. Now CPW and CDA will work with ranchers on how to successfully and non-lethally deter predation, as is being done successfully in many other states that have both vibrant and successful ranching sectors and a much larger population of wolves than Colorado. The state has also launched a reimbursement for confirmed wolf-caused depredation on cattle of up to $15,000 per loss. Through effective non-lethal management, CPW and CDA look forward to partnering with ranchers to reduce predation.

Polis' office said the "cornerstones of the wolf reintroduction program are to establish a viable wolf population and to reduce impacts on ranchers. Lethal control of wolves when there are only 12 known wolves in the state is premature."

The administration said the state agencies, which work together through a memorandum of understanding, have been building the capacity to anticipate and prepare for any predator livestock incidents and are working towards deploying range riders and other conflict minimization tools to help with non-lethal deterrence. Additionally, livestock producers who submit a claim may be eligible for the fair market value of livestock lost to wolf depredation. A dedicated Wolf Depredation Compensation cash fund has $175,000, provided from the state's General Fund, in its balance and will receive $350,000 additional General Funds per fiscal year to keep a healthy balance in the fund on an ongoing basis. For the current fiscal year, CPW has spending authority for up to $175,000 from this fund to compensate livestock owners for wolf depredation. CPW requested increased ongoing spending authority of up to $525,000 per year beginning FY 24-25 in the department's budget proposal, which is currently being considered by the General Assembly as part of the Long Bill which will be signed into law.

 "The Colorado Department of Agriculture and CPW continue to work with the Middle Park Stockgrowers and the Grand County community on a plan that would help employ non-lethal deterrent tactics, such as range riders. CPW has installed fox lights and is putting up fladry as we speak as well as conducting night watches for the past four nights. CPW is encouraging producers to use all the appropriate and legal tools available to them to protect their livestock. Range riders are effective, boots-on-the-ground support to livestock producers to help protect herds from wolves. A human presence like a range rider can help manage livestock and deploy non-lethal deterrents to avoid the depredation of livestock. While the department's budget request to the legislature for scaling up range riders is pending at the legislature and will likely be signed next week, CDA and CPW are deploying available resources to provide immediate support and are working on a plan to deploy on-the-ground assistance through range riders this month." 

Source: Rachel Gabel, The Fence Post Magazine and Western Ag Network