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Wildlife panel OKs wolf return
The new policy allows wolves to roam freely in Colorado while permitting the killing of "problem" predators and reimbursing ranchers for livestock losses.
By Theo Stein
Denver Post Staff Writer
Avon - The Colorado Wildlife Commission on Thursday set a course toward reconciliation with an old enemy: the wolf.

The Wildlife Commission, which sets policy for the state Division of Wildlife, agreed to accept the return of the migrating predators from Yellowstone National Park and to formalize a plan to manage the state's first packs.

The vote on the policy, set forth in a report by the Wolf Working Group, a panel of sportsmen, ranchers and conservation groups, was unanimous.

"I don't know if you realize the significance of the vote you took and how different that story could have been," Bruce McCloskey, the Division of Wildlife's director, told the commission.

The plan says the state will let wolves roam wherever they choose but urges a swift response to trouble, including killing wolves that prey on livestock. The policy also calls for a program to fairly compensate ranchers for their losses with money not raised from existing game-damage funds or license fees.

However, the policy leaves unanswered more intractable questions, like how to deal with numerous packs and whether Colorado should reintroduce wolves on its own. And it comes during a period   of turmoil and uncertainty in the national wolf debate.

Earlier this year, an Oregon judge agreed with environmentalists that the federal system of dividing wolves into regional subpopulations - and the reclassification of wolves as threatened - was illegal. The ruling reclassified all wolves as "endangered" and eliminated rules that allowed ranchers to shoot problem wolves.

The court decision will likely push permanent state management further into the future.

But on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would agree to let Colorado manage problem wolves through an unspecified

permit process.

Del Benson, a professor at Colorado State University and chairman of the wolf panel, said he hoped environmental groups would step forward with money to help the state manage wolves.

"This animal should be the poster child for these groups," he said. "They don't get more charismatic."

While polls show a majority of Coloradans welcome the wolf's return, many in the livestock community remain skeptical.

Craig rancher Jean Stetson said many ranchers have accused her of selling them out by agreeing to even a single wolf in the state.

"There's one faction in the   state that wants wolves here now," she said. "We have another faction that says, 'Hell no - I'll shoot every one I see."'

The division continues to receive wolf sightings, though none has been confirmed since a young female from Yellowstone was struck and killed on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs last June.

While McCloskey applauded the panel's report, it also left him with more work. He has to find money for the new wolf policy.

"It's tough to have a contingency fund in tough budget times," he said. "But it would be good to set something aside so we can pull the trigger   when we need to."

Staff writer Theo Stein can be reached at 303-820-1657 or at tstein@denverpost.com.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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