Wildlife Commission Adopts Wolf Management Plan

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The Colorado Wildlife Commission (Commission) has finalized plans for dealing with wolves that migrate into Colorado. In action Thursday at the May regular monthly meeting, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt recommendations from the Colorado Wolf Working Group.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) began wolf management planning with a series of public meetings around the state in March, 2004. These meetings were designed to identify issues the public felt should be addressed when developing a wolf management plan. Colorado’s Wolf Management Working Group was appointed in the late spring of 2004. The group is composed of four livestock producers, four wildlife advocates, two sportsmen, two county commissioners, and two professional wildlife biologists.

The group was given the difficult task of coming to an agreement on how the DOW should manage wolves that migrated into Colorado from recovery areas in the northern Rockies or Arizona and New Mexico.

Initially the group operated under the expectation that management of migrating wolves could be turned over to the state at any time, however a federal judge ruled in January that US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) rulemaking regarding distinct population sections was in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The judge's ruling keeps management of all wolves under the control of the USFWS. Despite that ruling, the DOW felt that it was in the best interests of the state to proceed with establishing a statewide policy for wolf management.

"This is a document that deals with 'if and when' the federal government turns over management to the state," said Gary Skiba, a DOW wildlife biologist who facilitated the working group process. "We are prepared when it does happen. We just aren't sure anymore when it will happen."

A draft of the working group's recommendations was presented to the Wildlife Commission on January 13. Public meetings were held around the state to receive feedback on the recommendations. A majority of the official comments received by the DOW supported the recommendation of the panel.

"A year ago we appointed these members of the working group, knowing full well that these people were from opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to wolves," said DOW Director Bruce McCloskey. "While other states are still fighting to find middle ground, this group has done a great job and we are indebted to them for their dedication."

The members of the wolf working group met again after their recommendations were adopted and the group asked to continue their work.

"This is a very diverse group of people and as long as they have the energy and the desire to keep working on these issues, we're going to help," McCloskey added.

The Wildlife Commission also took action to adopt final limited license numbers for black bear, deer, elk, pronghorn, and moose for all game management units (GMU) in the state. The adopted numbers will be used to issue licenses for the upcoming 2005 hunting seasons.

Overall, harvest objectives statewide are similar to those set for 2004, with a few exceptions. In Northwest Colorado, where half of the state's elk reside, population numbers are being brought down closer to objectives. Because elk numbers are getting closer to objective, some GMUs will see fewer female elk licenses issued this year.

The elk population in many areas was well over population objective throughout the 1990s. Increased damage to crops, rising concerns over wildlife-vehicle collisions, and impacts to other species such as mule deer prompted the DOW to significantly increase license numbers and encourage larger harvest of elk. Wildlife managers were also able to utilize early and late elk seasons and regulatory changes to further meet harvest objectives.

"Because of conflicts, we set out to reduce elk numbers," said Rick Kahn, DOW senior terrestrial biologist. "It is working. We are seeing record harvests, which shouldn't surprise anyone with the efforts we undertook to get here over the past few years."

In other action:

The Commission approved a regulation that will allow the Director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife to close or restrict access to lands or waters around the state to fishing and hunting if necessary to protect public health or help contain diseases or invasive species.

In an effort to prevent conflicts with hunting activities and protect nesting birds, Commissioners passed a regulation closing selected state wildlife areas to horseback and ATV activities. (State Wildlife Areas affected: Atwood, Bravo, Brush, Cottonwood, Dune Ridge, Elliott, Granada, John Martin Reservoir, Julesburg, Knudson, Messex, Overland Trail, Sedgwick, Sharptail Ridge, Tamarack Ranch, Jean K. Tool, and Webster. State Trust Lands affected: Atwood, Coal Bank Gulch, Ford Bridge, and Red Lion Ranch.)