Colorado ranchers say Polis, wildlife officials are ignoring pleas to kill depredating wolves

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Update: April 23: Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Jeff Davis responded to the Middle Park Stockgrowers Association in a letter.

Original story

The Middle Park Stockgrowers Association said it has been ghosted by Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife leadership since sending a letter requesting they authorize the lethal removal of two released wolves responsible for multiple recent cattle kills.

April has seen the most confirmed wolf depredations of any month in the state over the past two-plus years with five cattle killed by released wolves in Grand County.

A calf was killed and another one injured in Jackson County earlier this month, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife reports. The agency said it was aware of four wolves in the area where the kill took place, including released wolves and a wolf or wolves with known territory in North Park and belonging to the North Park pack.

Ranchers in the area are in the midst of calving season.

The association represents Grand and Summit counties, where 10 wolves were released by the state in late December as part of its voter-mandated reintroduction program.

The association said it didn't hear from the governor or state agencies after sending a letter Thursday, April 18, and it fired off another letter Monday, April 22, once again requesting the "immediate lethal removal for two specific wolves" in Grand County.

The letter further stated: "We are deeply concerned by the lack of response to our initial request on April 18th, 2024. The urgency of this situation demands swift and decisive action."

Tim Ritschard, president of the Middle Park Stockgrowers Association, said he had been in contact with the governor's office and Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife regarding ranchers' concerns.

But since the latest incidents, "I haven't heard boo from those people," he said. "They don’t want to listen to us. But we continue to build a group and we will keep the pressure on. We want to work with them, but it’s going to get ugly, really ugly if we do have another depredation."

That group includes the North Park Stockgrowers Association, which represents Jackson County just to the north of Grand County. That association also sent the governor and state agencies a similar letter Monday. There have been two recent confirmed wolf depredations in Jackson County: on April 2, when a calf was killed, and on April 13, when a calf was injured.

The Larimer County Stockgrowers Association also joined in the letter-writing campaign Monday.

"From wolf selection to post-depredation management, CPW has repeatedly failed the affected producers, community stakeholders and the residents of Colorado by your inability and unwillingness to act in good faith regarding the entire reintroduction process," the letter read in part.

The Coloradoan reached out to Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Monday for a response. The agency said it would share its response letter after it is sent to the Middle Park Stockgrowers directly.

Shelby Wieman, spokesperson for Polis, said wolf depredations are not a surprise and that state wildlife and agriculture staffs continue to work with Grand County livestock producers and plan to help them employ nonlethal deterrents, including range riders.

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

“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.''

Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, which spearheaded the campaign to pass the 2020 ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves by the end of 2023, said he feels bad for the ranchers who have faced depredations.

He added the key going forward is for ranchers to exhaust nonlethal strategies to deter the wolves.

"This (recent depredations) is not completely unexpected and it's not a signal the reintroduction process is going awry; the sky is not falling," he said. "There have been successes with ranchers using nonlethal strategies to deter wolves in North Park. There is change happening and it requires more work, but this is change ranchers can manage and there are multiple mechanisms to help them prepare for wolves."

What out-of-state wolf experts believe Colorado should do with depredating wolves

Diane Boyd is a Montana-based wolf expert who compiled a report commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation examining 40 years of extensive wolf research from across the country. The report, "Lessons Learned to Inform Colorado Wolf Reintroduction and Management," was done in part to help Colorado wildlife leaders plan and manage wolf reintroduction.

She said removal of chronic depredating wolves was part of the mid-1990s wolf reintroduction in the northern Rocky Mountains and Colorado should follow a similar plan, which will help build long-term recovery success.

"Removing wolves is part of the process," she said. "If Colorado doesn't understand that, it will be a continuing challenge. And they don't want a Don Gittleson situation on a statewide basis where these ranchers are stuck with no choices. This new situation (released wolves) offers choices."

Gittleson has had seven cows confirmed killed in the last two years on his leased ranch north of Walden, according to previous Coloradoan reporting. In December, his request for the state to lethally remove the remaining two North Park pack members due to chronic depredation was denied. The North Park pack was here before the state's reintroduction began.

The breeding male of the North Park pack, M2101, is likely to have been involved in 17 of the 21 depredations in the county, according to state wildlife investigation tracking collar identification, reports from ranchers and pack behavior.

The state wildlife agency told the Coloradoan the exact number of depredations by wolf 2101 is not known.

Carter Niemeyer spent three decades killing wolves for the federal government but most recently has helped ranchers with nonlethal means of dealing with depredating wolves. He is retired in Idaho and served on Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Technical Working Group that helped create the state's wolf recovery plan.

He also believes lethal removal should be an option on wolves that continue to depredate, but only after sincere efforts have been made by ranchers to deter wolves with nonlethal measures.

The state's wolf recovery plan encourages Colorado ranchers to first use nonlethal strategies to deter wolves but does not require those methods before legally killing a wolf under the federal 10(j) rule.

The Middle Park Stockgrowers Association letter said Grand County ranchers have been implementing various nonlethal deterrents.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife makes nonlethal tools available to ranchers.

"There are not a lot of happy endings when wolves begin chronically killing livestock," Niemeyer said. "That's why they will have to define chronic pretty darn quickly. But to think this wouldn't happen you would have to be pretty naïve. You need to start with nonlethal means to dissuade wolves from starting or continuing to kill livestock.

"Inevitably, there will be some dead livestock and there will be wolf removals. How you get there is a hard decision."

Colorado Parks and Wildlife told the Coloradoan on Monday staff is working on a definition of chronic depredation with the issue most likely scheduled to be heard by the parks and wildlife commission at its June or July meeting.

Niemeyer said so many recent wolf depredations in one area of Grand County might mean the wolves have started to den in the area. State wildlife officials said several weeks ago they are unsure if the released wolves, which include females mature enough to breed, will produce a litter this year.

"The toughest decision with all of this is what if you have pups in a den right near where those recent depredations took place," he said.

One of five gray wolves released in Colorado is shown on Dec. 19, 2023.
One of five gray wolves released in Colorado is shown on Dec. 19, 2023.

State wildlife agency unwilling to identify by tracking collars what wolves involved in kills

The Coloradoan has repeatedly asked Colorado Parks and Wildlife to identify by collar the wolves involved in all livestock depredations.

The agency has confirmed released wolves were involved in all livestock incidents in April in Grand County. But it has refused to provide the tracking collars, saying doing so would result in a safety concern to the animals.

"We’re not revealing further information because CPW is concerned that if the potentially depredating wolf/wolves is identified this will increase the risk of harm or harassment of the animals," the state wildlife agency said in an email.

The Coloradoan's request is to determine if wolves captured in Oregon were involved in recent depredations in that state and similarly involved in depredations in Colorado. That information could confirm or refute a pattern of chronic depredation by those wolves.

The Coloradoan identified five of the 10 wolves released into Colorado belonged to Oregon packs that had confirmed livestock depredations between July 2023 and being captured in December 2023, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf depredation reports.

Prior to the reintroduction, Colorado Parks and Wildlife leadership had publicly said it wouldn't release reintroduced wolves that have depredated livestock.

In addition, a state wolf recovery plan says: "No wolf should be translocated that has a known history of chronic depredation, and sourcing from geographic areas with chronic depredation events should not occur."

It is largely agreed by wolf experts and affirmed by studies that once wolves learn to kill livestock, they have a propensity to continue the behavior.

"I was quite shocked to hear they brought in depredating wolves,'' Niemeyer said. "Those aren't the ones you want to build a reintroduction program on. It's bad optics from public perception.''

Wolves learning to kill livestock can lead to chronic depredation, which Colorado's wolf recovery plan does not define.

That lack of definition makes it difficult to lethally remove chronic depredating wolves, which is allowed under Colorado's federal 10(j) rule.

Ranchers and state legislators representing livestock producers have pressured the governor and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to define chronic depredation so a decision can be made on the option of lethal removal.

The Middle Park Stockgrowers Association's Monday letter said the state of Washington's definition of chronic depredation includes three depredations in 30 days or four depredations in a 10-month rolling window and should serve as a benchmark for Colorado.

The association argues the recent depredations exceed that definition with two wolves killing five cattle in three separate incidents over 16 days.

As of Monday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has confirmed that wolves in the state have accounted for 27 injuries or death to livestock and the animals that herd and guard them.

Depredations have injured or killed 21 cattle, three sheep and three working cattle dogs. All but five cattle involved the North Park pack. Those were the most recent Grand County depredations by the released wolves.

The state has paid out just less than $40,000 since December 2021 in compensation to ranchers for losses to wolves. That does not take into account the livestock losses this month.

Where is Colorado getting wolves from for future releases?

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington will provide Colorado with up to 15 wolves for the reintroduction program between December 2024 and March 2025.

Here is a list of confirmed wolf depredations in Colorado and amount paid to the livestock producer

Data provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as of April 22, 2024:


  • April 18: 1 yearling cattle. Grand County. Compensation pending

  • April 17: 3 yearling cattle. Grand County. Compensation pending

  • April 13: 1 calf. Jackson County. Compensation pending

  • April 8: 1 calf. Jackson County. Compensation pending

  • April 5: 1 calf. Grand County. Compensation pending


  • Dec. 13: 1 calf, Jackson County. Compensation pending

  • Nov. 17: 3 sheep. Jackson County. $489

  • March 13: 1 working cattle dog. Jackson County. $15,000

  • Nov. 19: 1 calf. Jackson County. $1,106.09


  • Oct. 8: 1 calf. Jackson County. $338.62

  • Oct. 7: 1 calf. Jackson County. $400

  • Aug. 1: 1 calf: Jackson County. $3,000

  • May 30: 1 calf. Jackson County. $3,000

  • May 2: 1 calf. Jackson County. $2,850

  • April 22: 1 calf. Jackson County. $779.52

  • March 15: 2 cattle. Jackson County. $1,230

  • Jan. 18: 3 cattle. Jackson County. $8,647

  • Jan. 9: 2 working cattle dogs. Jackson County. $1,252.72


  • Dec. 9: 1 calf. Jackson County. $1,800

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Colorado ranchers say state's ignoring asks to kill depredating wolves