Quick thinking saves hunter, dog from wolf during grouse hunt

Two gray wolves.

Garfield County commissioners have joined the growing opposition to reintroduction of the gray wolf in Colorado as advocates work to get a measure providing for reintroduction onto next year's statewide ballot.

Garfield commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a resolution opposing reintroduction, after Mesa and Moffat commissioners did the same thing last year.

Garfield County's action comes as activists are gathering signatures through a mid-December deadline with a goal of getting the reintroduction measure onto the 2020 ballot.

"I'm amazed that people would want to do something like this because I don't think it would be good for anyone in any way," Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson said during the commissioners' meeting Monday.

He said reintroducing wolves would be devastating for moose, elk and deer populations, as well as domestic livestock such as sheep and cattle.

Garfield commissioners acted at the behest of the Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition, which has gained the support of entities including the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and the Outdoor Channel.

Garfield County rancher Frank Daley encouraged Garfield commissioners to oppose reintroduction.

He said wolves wouldn't just kill livestock, but would tear down fencing, affect cows' pregnancy rates by harassing and chasing them, and result in things such as cows running to calves to protect them and inevitably stepping on some, breaking their legs.

He doesn't expect wolves to confine themselves in the high country. When big game drops down to private land in the winter, Daley thinks wolves will follow.

He said he already sees fewer deer than he used to, thanks to predation by coyotes and lions.

"We definitely don't need to add in another predator," he said.

Wolf reintroduction in Colorado is being pushed by groups including the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project and Colorado Sierra Club.

Delia Malone, wildlife team chairwoman for the Colorado Sierra Club, said in an interview that 25 years after wolf reintroduction in the Northern Rockies, "there is no evidence that wolves are going to destroy the ranching industry. They certainly have not done so in the Northern Rockies."

With some 6 million cattle in the Northern Rockies and 825,000 sheep, annual confirmed kills by wolves total maybe 160 to 170 sheep and 140 to 170 cattle, Malone said, while acknowledging that not all killed livestock are found. She said ranchers can get compensation for losses, and depredation rates can drop to zero for ranchers willing to incorporate strategies such as cowhands managing herds.

She said elk numbers and elk hunting also haven't been harmed in the Northern Rockies by wolves, and elk populations are healthier there.

Malone said she recognizes that wolves would require more work of ranchers.

But she thinks that's fair to ask of ranchers operating on public lands where members of the public such as her want to see wolves returned, bringing what she argues would be positive impacts to ecoystems.

Malone has high hopes that the signature-gathering effort will succeed in getting the initiative on the ballot.

"We've got a huge number of volunteers that are committed to this effort," she said.

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