Life Imitates Yellowstone Art for Wolf-Weary Ranchers | GABEL | Opinion







Rachel Gable


I’m watching Yellowstone. I’ll let you decide if that’s a character flaw or just part of my charm. I’m telling you this to tell you this. On last Sunday’s episode, the ranchers gathered to hear information from the agency, which I would assume is the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Wolves were the whole agenda, so I listened carefully.

I watched as the wildlife agent told the assembled crowd that the tale of the big bad wolf was not true and that the wolves would not leave the national park boundaries and that the wolves would not kill their livestock. The camera pans through the crowd, and it looked a lot like the crowd that gathered in Glenwood Springs for a meeting organized by the Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association. It was an opportunity to hear about the final draft of the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) Final Summary of Recommendations for Wolf Reintroduction to Colorado.

The crowd gathered on television looked a lot like the 80 farmers, equipment dealers and landowners who gathered at Gateway last week to hear from Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials and sit before the Commission and have their two minutes to urge the Commission to consider SAG recommendations, or support Rule 10(j), or allow lethal control of wolves that have a habit of killing livestock. Several people sat before the Commission and simply asked them to remember that the people who deal with wolves are real people who have to make real incomes for their families and their very real small communities.

The difference between the Hollywood version and the Colorado version that night, of course, was that while the Yellowstone crowd erupted into a frenzy, the Colorado version behaved professionally every step of the way.

Now that the final summary documents are available for both the SAG and the Technical Working Group (TWG), thanks to the tremendous amount of time dedicated by each member of both groups, the wait has begun for December 9 and the release of the Colorado Wolf Recovery Plan and management at a Commission meeting, followed by a series of five statewide and virtual meetings.

Proposition 114—which passed by an incredibly narrow margin through the use of big money from out-of-state groups and mostly from voters who have no skin in the game—requires that “gray wolf recovery in the state must be dedicated to conflict resolution with persons engaged in animal husbandry and agriculture in this state. It also mandates that the CPW Commission, whose members received this mess, “must develop a recovery and management plan for gray wolves in Colorado using the best available scientific data; assisting livestock owners in preventing and resolving conflicts between gray wolves and livestock; and pay just compensation to livestock owners for any loss of livestock caused by gray wolves as verified in accordance with the claims procedures authorized by sections 33-3-107 to 33-3-110.”

For ranchers, outfitters and hunters on the Western Slope, this part of the statute is important. They did a good job of driving to Commission meetings and showing up. They held up their end of the bargain. They have gone to Montana to tour a ranch and learn how to coexist with wolves. They have invested in fladry. They have been loyal and willing to cooperate as partners with local CPW officials.

Beginning Dec. 5, the ball will be in the off-ranch voters’ court, sans gear and front-range voters. It did not go unnoticed by the Commission that the same persons were sitting before them and repeatedly asking for their support. There are only so many cattlemen who can leave the ranch just before calving season. There are only so many teams that can leave at the end of the whitetails’ season and the beginning of the mountain lions’ season to talk for two minutes. That’s how rural voters are.

The people shouldering the burden of wolf recovery need first-round voters to talk to the Commission. West Slope ranchers need Front Range voters to push the Commission to accept SAG’s recommendations, allow lethal culling of common predators, fairly compensate all livestock losses, both direct and indirect, and make voices heard clearly of reason over the noise of activists who used the damned state voting process to corner entire industries.

The draft plan will be posted online at WolfEngagementCO.org on December 9. At the Commission’s virtual meeting on December 9, CPW will review the draft plan and time will be provided for questions from the Commissioner. A public comment form will be posted on WolfEngagementCO.org on December 9 and will remain open until February 22, 2023.

Five hearings will be held across the country to get input from the public to take into account when developing the plan. Hearing dates and places are January 19, 2023, Colorado Springs; January 25, 2023, Gunnison; February 7, 2023, Rifle; February 16, 2023, virtually via Zoom; and February 22, 2023, Denver.

Rachel Gable writes about the problems of agriculture and rural areas. She is an assistant editor for The Fence Post magazine, the region’s leading agricultural publication. Gable is the daughter of the state’s oil and gas industry and a member of one of the state’s 12,000 cattle-raising families, and she is the author of children’s books used in hundreds of classrooms to teach students about agriculture.

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