State asks to list Colorado’s wolf population as ‘experimental’

As the deadline for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to develop a wolf reintroduction plan approaches, the state has submitted an application that, if approved, would designate Colorado’s wolf population as “experimental” under of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The designation could provide some flexibility to ranchers when it comes to protecting livestock.

“An experimental population is a geographically described group that is isolated from other extant populations of the species. Individuals in the experimental population are classified as threatened, not endangered, under the ESA,” according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association. (NOAA).

The rule of experimental populations is permitted under section 10(j) of the ESA. In an interview with Summit Daily regional wolf coordinator Scott Becker, the rule would allow state officials to define situations in which the hazing, injury or death of wolves would be permitted in Colorado.

Before making a decision on the application, the US Fish and Wildlife Service must first determine whether Colorado’s wolf population will be considered essential under the ESA.

“The Services must determine whether the population is ‘essential’ for the survival of the species (i.e. the species will disappear without the reintroduction of this population) or ‘non-essential’ (i.e. say that the reintroduced population will help restore the species, but its recovery can be achieved without the population),” NOAA said.

Livestock protection concerns were raised in the past year when several incidents of wolf predation were recorded in the state. The wolves, responsible for the deaths of several cows and a dog, belong to a small pack that migrated to Colorado from a border state.

Colorado’s wolf population was eradicated in the 1940s, with a functioning population of the species absent from the state for decades. In 2020, a ballot measure was approved directing the CPW commission to create a gray wolf reintroduction and management plan by December 2023.

Part of that plan must include a protection plan for livestock owners, including the use of public funds to fairly compensate for losses, according to CPW.

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