Colorado makes first payment to rancher for wolves killing livestock

Last year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife paid landowners nearly $450,000 for bears to break into beehives and kill cattle and sheep, with mountain lions carrying off goats and elk eating hay and slaughtering fences.

And now, for the first time, the national wildlife agency is paying for wolves to kill a cow.

Jackson County rancher Don Gittleson said Colorado Parks and Wildlife paid him $1,800 for the 600-pound registered Angus calf that the national wildlife agency confirmed was killed by a pack of wolves in his ranch northeast of Walden in December. He said he was expecting compensation for the two pregnant heifers he lost to the same pack in January.

“I got less for the calf than show value, but I was willing to work with them,” Gittleson said. “They (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) are waiting for the heifers to make sure I don’t have any more losses. .

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A cattle dog working at a nearby ranch was also killed by the pack, but the state wildlife agency said compensation has not been finalized for the loss.

The pack’s parents naturally migrated to the state of Wyoming in recent years and had six cubs last spring, marking the first time in eight decades that wolves have been known to produce cubs in the Colorado.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is required by 90-year-old law to compensate ranchers, farmers and landowners for damage caused by big game — and now wolves — through its Game Damage program. Compensation may include prevention materials (mainly fences) and/or financial reimbursement.

However, there is a distinction between funding sources for other wildlife species covered by the program and wolves.

The $447,000 the national wildlife agency paid out last year is funded entirely by revenue from hunting and fishing licenses through an annual appropriation from its Game Cash Fund. The agency had allocated nearly $1.3 million for these payments.

Compensation for wolf depredation will not use revenue generated from the sale of hunting or fishing license rights. These funds will come from the General Fund, Species Conservation Trust Fund, Colorado Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Treasury Funds, and other non-game species funding sources.

Funding sources for wolf compensation were mandated by the wolf reintroduction ballot initiative (Proposition 114) that Colorado voters narrowly passed in 2020. It also calls for the reintroduction of wolves as soon as possible. late at the end of 2023.

Many sports groups opposed the re-entry ballot initiative.

Additionally, a bill signed by Governor Jared Polis under Proposition 114 uses state General Fund dollars to support the reintroduction of the gray wolf. That amount for the 2021-22 fiscal year is $1.1 million, which is being used to develop the state’s wolf restoration and management plan.

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The wolf clearing a tricky conversation

The ballot initiative calls for “fair compensation” for the depredation of wolves on livestock, but the fairness of this compensation has provoked long discussions.

A stakeholder advisory group, as part of the wolf plan, discussed various compensation alternatives. The group is made up of Colorado members from a variety of backgrounds.

These alternatives include:

  • Pay 100% of fair market value for confirmed victims and at least 50% of fair market value for probable depredations
  • Compensation for missing livestock and/or indirect losses
  • A multiplier/compensation ratio for the loss of the individual animal and other animal value
  • Pay-per-view program where landowners receive an amount when wolves are present.
  • Conflict minimization techniques
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 at the Gittleson Angus Ranch northeast of Walden, Colorado, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife said a final report from the Livestock Damage Compensation Stakeholder Advisory Group will soon be available at

Rob Edwards, director of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, the group that led the reintroduction ballot initiative, said fair compensation is the right thing to do for wolves and for those who own livestock.

“There’s no doubt there will be livestock depredation, so let’s see how to make it work day to day and move on,” he said. “We want to make sure wolves are covered because we’re asking for them to be restored. It’s going to be a culture shift and a long-term conversation, but I believe Colorado has the guts to do it.”

Gittleson said he recently spoke to the Stakeholder Advisory Group and told them compensation was a critical part of wolves sharing land with livestock owners. He told the committee that if livestock owners are not adequately compensated for their losses or help solve the problem, the reintroduction of wolves will be doomed.

“If a rancher thinks he lost cattle to wolves, the truth to him is that wolves killed those animals and he’ll want to be compensated,” he said. “If he’s not compensated, he’ll take the situation into his own hands and the pro-wolves won’t like the outcome.

“I’m good at solving the problem, but there have to be incentives and solutions – and probably both.”

Gittleson, with help from nearby ranchers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, erected a turbo fladry, a thin electric fence with flags, around his herd to prevent wolf attacks after the death of his cattle. He also asked for volunteers to help him watch the herd at night to confuse the wolves if they returned.

Other western states where wolves are present, such as Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, use a variety of measures to compensate livestock owners for wolf depredation.

A technical working group of wolf experts from across the West is helping the Stakeholder Advisory Group develop the Gray Wolf Restoration and Management Plan for Colorado.

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Colorado Game Damage Program

Amount paid in damages over the past five years:

2020: $477,100

2019: $683,291

2018: $786,701

2017: $675,189

2016: $670,175

Here’s a sampling of what the program paid out in damages in 2020:

Cost of damage per claim:

  • Livestock: 64%
  • Crops (mainly hay and corn): 27%
  • Hives: 5%

Damage cost per species:

  • Bear/cougar: 69%
  • Elk/Deer: 30%

Note: Colorado Parks and Wildlife does not pay for damage caused by “nuisance wildlife” including species such as coyotes, bobcats, foxes, muskrats, beavers, and birds.

Source: Colorado Parks and Wildlife Damage Program

Journalist Miles Blumhardt seeks stories that impact your life. Whether it’s news, outdoors, sports – you name it, it wants to report it. Do you have a story idea? Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Colorado journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

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Elaine R. Knight