Montana cattle group opposes state giving Colorado wolves for reintroduction

The Montana Stockgrowers Association has asked its state wildlife agency to prevent wolves from being captured and released into Colorado as part of the Centennial State's voter-mandated reintroduction plan.

It's not that the 135-year-old livestock producer organization is supportive of keeping Montana's wolves in the state. Instead, in a letter to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks the organization voiced its concern for the livestock producers of Colorado as a sign of solidarity.

"Giving Colorado wolves from Montana isn’t going to solve the wolf issues in our state, but it will significantly impact livestock producers in Colorado,'' Jim Steinbeisser, the association's president, said in the letter. “MSGA represents ranching families throughout the state, and we have experienced first-hand the impacts this apex predator has on our family ranches.''

Eric Odell, Colorado Parks and Wildlife's species conservation program manager, previously told the Coloradoan the state's preference is to capture wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming for reintroduction by the end of 2023. The three states have an estimated 3,000 wolves and hunting the predator is legal in each state.

Odell said preliminary plans call for eight to 10 wolves to be released into the state annually over a three- to four year-period, at which time reintroduction would pause to assess how wolves are doing in the state.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife in an email Monday said it is working to identify potential source populations from which introduced wolves will come.

"We appreciate the assistance, expertise and research Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have provided in regards to Colorado’s reintroduction efforts, and look forward to continuing conversations,'' the email read.

Greg Lemon, the Montana wildlife agency's spokesperson, said the state has not received an official request for wolves from Colorado.

Colorado wolf reintroduction: How and where will wolves be released

The stockgrowers association's letter went on to say, "It is critically important livestock producers do not shoulder the burden and costs of these types of reintroduction efforts, especially with no management tools in place to protect their property, livelihoods, and resources ranchers so carefully manage.''

Kim Gittleson and working cattle dog Jake walk past U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services propane cannons used to scare away wolves from cattle on the Gittleson Angus ranch northeast of Walden, Colo., on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022.
Kim Gittleson and working cattle dog Jake walk past U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services propane cannons used to scare away wolves from cattle on the Gittleson Angus ranch northeast of Walden, Colo., on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022.

Colorado Proposition 114, which was narrowly passed by voters in 2020, mandates wolves be reintroduced no later than the end of 2023 west of the Continental Divide. It also requires livestock owners be compensated for losses due to wolves.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in January passed an emergency nonlethal hazing regulation to address wolves that are believed to have naturally migrated to Northern Colorado from Wyoming killing three cattle and a working cattle dog on two adjacent ranches north of Walden.

Complicating matters is a recent judge's ruling to move wolf management from many states, including Colorado, back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is in the midst of a reintroduction and recovery plan, which Odell said will continue despite the judge's ruling in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife with the expectation that reintroduction will meet the ballot initiative mandate deadline.

Don Gittleson is the North Park rancher who lost two adult registered Angus heifers and a calf to wolves in December and January. Last spring, the parents of the pack gave birth to six pups, which are believed to be the first wolf pups to be born in Colorado in eight decades.

Don Gittleson talks on his phone while volunteers erect fencing meant to deter wolves from his cattle herd on the Gittleson Angus ranch northeast of Walden, Colo., on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. Gittleson said he receives many calls per day after a nearby pack of wolves killed three of his herd.
Don Gittleson talks on his phone while volunteers erect fencing meant to deter wolves from his cattle herd on the Gittleson Angus ranch northeast of Walden, Colo., on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. Gittleson said he receives many calls per day after a nearby pack of wolves killed three of his herd.

"I called them (Montana Stockgrowers Association) and thanked them,'' said Gittleson, who with help from neighbors, volunteers, various governmental agencies and wolf advocate groups Defenders of Wildlife and Working Circle has used turbo fladry and people to protect his herd from further wolf depredation.

Terry Fankhauser, Colorado Cattlemen's Association executive vice president, said he understands the gesture from the Montana Stockgrowers Association is symbolic but that it sends a meaningful message.

"It is meaningful for the right reason because their comments support an industry that does not have adequate protection in place for wolves,'' said Fankhauser, who said the two organizations have worked together for years regarding wolves. "It makes a statement regardless of if wolves actually come from Montana.''

Cameron Mulrony, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association, and Jim Magagna, executive vice president of Wyoming Stock Growers Association, told the Coloradoan their organizations have not issued an official statement in support of the Montana Stockgrowers Association letter.

However, both said it is likely their organizations would also disapprove of wolves being captured in their states and released into Colorado if or when it becomes official that Colorado has requested wolves from their states.

Coloradoan wolf reporting: Catch up on our series of stories documenting the return of wolves

Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at milesblumhardt@coloradoan.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Montana cattle group opposes state giving Colorado wolves to release