JACKSON COUNTY, Colo. (AP) — Colorado rancher Don Gittleson used to get up at dawn to check on his cattle. Now it’s midnight.
Why the time change? Wolves.
About a dozen people recently helped Gittleson through deep snow to set up 3 miles of fladry around a pasture near his ranch. The thin electric fence with flags waving in the wind was erected to deter a pack of nearby wolves who killed a pregnant heifer at the ranch, injured another badly enough that she had to euthanize and kill a calf early in the morning for the past few weeks.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed the killings as well as that of a working cattle dog at an adjacent ranch.
Gittleson and his wife, Kim, received help from nearby ranchers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services in Fort Collins, who also brought four propane cannons that fire at regular intervals to scare away the wolves. .
Discussions among those who have erected fladry as the first line of defense have likened it to applying a bandage to a serious wound.
Despite their lack of faith in fencing‘s ability to help in the long run, they acknowledged the effort had to be made in good faith to help calm an increasingly contentious situation as Colorado grapples with depredations. wolves for the first time in decades.
“Everything we do now is temporary, so hopefully we can find things that are more than temporary,” Gittleson said in the middle of one of his cattle pens. “It really depends on the wolves how long it works. I’ve heard a few weeks, 60 days and 90 days. Hopefully we will have at least 60 days.″
The Gittleson Angus Ranch is far from the rest of society. It is located 21 km northeast of the small town of Walden and 13 km from the nearest paved road, with no other ranch in sight. It is nestled against the western flank of the Medicine Bow mountain range with breathtakingly beautiful 360 degree views.
But wolves have shone a spotlight on this remote ranch made up of 11,000 acres of public and private leased land. And Gittleson, who is alone at the ranch during the week, is feeling the pressure of attention from the media and from all sides of the wolf issue as well as long working hours all day and, now, night.
“I’m aware there are a lot of eyes on me,” Gittleson said, pulling her cell phone out of her Carhart coat pocket to answer another call. “Normally, I can spend a week and receive two or three calls. Now I hardly go a day without two, three or more phone calls.″
Gittleson said the wolf pack which includes two adults and six pups born last spring has not been seen in the area in recent days. But he expects them to be back, as they have been on several occasions in previous months. He hopes the fladry will buy him time to find more sustainable solutions to protect his herd of around 180 registered Angus cows.
He said the USDA Wildlife Services was looking to hire a rider to check their livestock at night and a “pro-wolf” individual from Gunnison called and offered to ride. Many wolf experts claim that constant and consistent human presence, such as horsemen, is essential to breaking the learned behavior of wolves that kill livestock.
John Murtaugh, the Defenders of Wildlife representative for the Rockies and Plains, said the organization donated a mile of fladry to help Gittleson. He said Gittleson’s losses were exceptional.
“When this kind of thing happens, you usually get two types of reactions,” Murtaugh said. “Some are stubborn and don’t want to change. Don’s perspective is that he may not like wolves and the loss of his livestock, but he understands that this is the new reality and it’s time to adapt to be successful in this. environment.
Murtaugh said these situations work best when the community takes ownership of the issue and works together to resolve it through discussions of what actions are needed to resolve the issue.
“There’s always a lot of anxiety about wolf issues, and right now that’s certainly the case on all sides,” he said.
Gittleson isn’t sure if the fladry will work in the short term. He says his worries are already about the safety of his herd during calving season months from now as well as this summer, when his cattle graze away from the protection of his small pastures and paddocks near his home where they overwinter.
“They wanted us to keep this (fladry) until calving season because it would only work for so long,” said Gittleson, who said a local rancher took some of his young cows to his pasture to protect them from wolves.
Gittleson has decided to go ahead with the fladry now due to the imminent threat the wolves pose to his flock.
It was his best option to deal with that threat immediately, he said, but he “isn’t sure what I’m going to do in calving season now.”
History of wolves in Colorado
1876: Admission of Colorado into the Union. Wolf scalps and ears are worth 50 cents.
1909-1915: The US Forest Service reports killing 113 adult wolves and cubs in Colorado.
1934: Wolf is excluded from game status in Colorado and is no longer protected.
1943: Colorado’s last wolf was reportedly killed in Conejos County.
1973: Wolves are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
1974: What was then the Colorado Division of Wildlife announces that part of its goal is to provide protection and management to establish a minimum of 20 wolves in the state.
1982: The Colorado Wildlife Commission publishes a resolution against the reintroduction of the wolf.
1991: The San Juan Mountains are added to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Future Considerations” list of areas to be evaluated for wolf reintroduction.
1993: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begins a $50,000 feasibility study to determine if biological and social attitudes conducive to wolf reintroduction exist in the state.
1994: A feasibility study indicates that the state could house up to 1,128 wolves. The Colorado State University Human Dimensions in Natural Resources Unit’s poll on the reintroduction of wolves indicates that 71% of Colorado residents surveyed approve of it.
1995: Colorado not included in Northern Rocky Mountain wolf recovery plan.
2005: The Colorado Wildlife Commission adopts a state task force’s wolf management plan for the state. 2016: The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission reiterates its opposition to the reintroduction of the wolf.
2019: In July, a wolf fitted with a GPS tracking collar is confirmed north of Walden and belongs to the Snake River pack in Wyoming. This is the first confirmed wolf sighting in four years.
2019: Rocky Mountain Wolf Project announces it will be seeking signatures to place on the 2020 ballot.
2020: In January, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirms a pack of six wolves in Moffat County in far northwest Colorado. The pack is believed to have come from other states. At the beginning of 2022, the pack is no longer there.
2020: In November, voters pass Proposition 114, a ballot initiative that calls for the reintroduction of wolves to Colorado by the end of 2023. The vote was 50.91% in favor, 49.09% against.
2021: In January, the United States Department of the Interior’s rule to remove the gray wolf from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act goes into effect. This decision transfers management authority for the gray wolf in Colorado from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Wolves remain an endangered species in the state.
2021: In February, for the first time since Colorado took over wolf management, a male wolf is captured by helicopter and fitted with a tracking collar.
2021: In the spring, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirms that the first cubs born in Colorado in probably 80 years are discovered north of Walden. The parents are the two wolves seen in the area with tracking collars. Six puppies were born.
2021: On December 19, Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives a report of a calf carcass at a ranch north of Walden in Jackson County, near where the wolf pack gave birth. The national wildlife agency confirms it was a wolf kill that week, and it’s believed to be the state’s first wolf kill in more than 70 years.
2022: On January 9, a rancher near where the calf was killed reports that wolves killed his cattle dog and injured another. The kill is confirmed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
2022: On January 18 and 19, two pregnant heifer cows are confirmed killed by wolves (one was euthanized due to her injuries) on the same ranch that had previously lost a calf.