Colorado wildlife officers will have the power to kill and haze wolves

Colorado wildlife officials likely will be able to haze, relocate and euthanize the wolves they plan to release later this year after federal officials on Friday gave them the flexibility to manage the endangered species in the state — a decision critical to the state’s wolf reintroduction plan.

Under current law, it is illegal to hurt or kill gray wolves in Colorado since they are listed as endangered species under federal law. But the draft decision’s release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designates the wolves to be introduced here as an experimental population, meaning state officials will have more flexibility to manage the animals.

The federal decision is crucial for Colorado’s reintroduction plans. The decision — called a 10(j) rule — allows state wildlife officials to haze, relocate or euthanize wolves that threaten or kill people, livestock or domestic pets.

Hazing, or scaring off, the wolves also can include methods that hurt them, such as shooting them with bean bag projectiles or rubber buckshot. In some circumstances, it also allows members of the public to haze or kill wolves that attack livestock or dogs.

“The 10(j) rule provides management flexibility that is a critical component to the success of this Plan and on which other components of the Plan depend,” states the Colorado Parks and Wildlife reintroduction plan, which was finalized earlier this year, in anticipation of the new rule’s issuance.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will finalize Friday’s decision in 30 days after a mandated cooling-off period is complete.

The draft decision was released weeks ahead of schedule, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Jeff Davis noted in a news release.

“This demonstrates a sincere and effective commitment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to accomplish this task on a very accelerated timeline,” Davis said. “National Environmental Policy Act work typically takes two to three years and it was accomplished in a little over a year-and-a-half. CPW leadership is very thankful to the demonstrated commitment and partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Colorado is the first state government to reintroduce gray wolves. Voters in 2020 narrowly approved the reintroduction of the species after a successful ballot initiative put the decision in the hands of the public. Wolves were killed off in Colorado by 1940, though a few wolves have been recorded in the state since 2020.

The ballot language states Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials must “take the steps necessary to begin reintroductions of gray wolves” by Dec. 31 — now just over three months away.

The agency has yet to finalize an agreement with another state willing to share its wolves before the deadline. Colorado Parks and Wildlife director Jeff Davis in May sent letters requesting wolves to four states: Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana. At least 2,800 wolves roam the four states, though the vast majority live in Idaho and Montana, according to wildlife officials’ estimates.

Leaders in Idaho and Montana rejected the request. (Wyoming’s governor said he wouldn’t provide wolves to Colorado even before the state sent its formal requests.)

Washington State’s leaders are open to providing wolves but have said they would be unlikely to do so before Dec. 31, said Reid DeWalt, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s assistant director for wildlife and natural resources, during a legislative meeting Tuesday.

Oregon’s wildlife officials have signaled openness to the idea and conversations are ongoing, CPW spokesman Joey Livingston said.

The agency also has reached out to the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho to request wolves, he said.

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