Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) has completed the management plan and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) published the experimental population designation for wolves in Colorado, under the Endangered Species Act, section 10(j), notably ahead of schedule. This will facilitate the commencement of the first round of wolf releases by December 31, 2023.
Overall, the 10(j) rule supports wolf restoration in Colorado. We look forward to working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), as well as ranchers and rural communities, to prevent and reduce conflicts to promote restoration of, and coexistence with, native carnivores in the Southern Rockies.
- The 10(j) rule closely aligns with provisions in the state plan, which was developed with technical and stakeholder input, and is an attempt to balance the interests of wolves with the interests of the people who will live in proximity to wolves, including ranchers and hunters.
- The 10(j) rule clarifies when someone can legally harass or kill a gray wolf. The “take” provisions related to wolf-livestock conflict closely mirror the impact-based management framework in the state plan.
- As defined in the Endangered Species Act (ESA), “take” includes non-injurious harassment, which would include most non-lethal coexistence tools; the 10(j) rule thus permits the use of those otherwise disallowed methods. For example, “opportunistic harassment” includes scaring wolves with noise (yelling or shooting firearms into the air), movement (running or driving toward the wolf), or objects (throwing a rock at a wolf or releasing bear pepper spray). Notably, the “Born to Be Wild” license plate will help fund many of the tools to help prevent conflict between wolves and livestock.
- The provisions for take of wolves who repeatedly depredate on livestock are nearly the same on private and public lands. However, the rule clarifies that agency discretion should include things like the severity or frequency of depredations on livestock or working dogs, likelihood of persistence of such depredations, whether attractants or intentional feeding are involved, and whether there is a threat to human life. We strongly urge the agencies to err on the side of less lethal take on public lands.
- The rule specifically addresses the use of foothold traps and defers to the state constitution, which only allows foothold traps to be used for nonlethal scientific investigations, not as a management tool.
- Neither the 10(j) rule nor the state plan allow lethal take of a wolf attacking pets, other than livestock herding or guardian dogs (working dogs).
- As long as wolves remain federally listed as endangered, CPW can’t allow killing wolves to help meet population objectives for prey species or to protect populations of other wildlife species. An exception is on tribal lands. If scientific evidence shows that wolves are driving prey populations down on reservation lands, the tribe can propose a plan to reduce such impacts—but they must show that wolves are indeed a driving factor. Any proposed plan under this provision must be public and peer reviewed prior to being submitted to the USFWS for review. This allowance for take on tribal lands only includes reservation lands, not the Brunot Treaty area or other privately owned tribal lands. This is the most substantial change from the draft to the final rule. The draft EIS would have allowed killing of wolves to meet prey population objectives anywhere in the state, a provision to which we and many other conservation organizations objected.
Although there are elements of the final rule we hoped would read differently, ultimately it lays the foundation for a successful reintroduction program—one that we fully expect will put Colorado on the map as a proactive leader in large carnivore conservation.