Building Trust or Not: Colorado’s Christmas Wolf Kerfuffle

Photo from Lakota Wolf Preserve

Happy New Year everyone!

I’ve been thinking about trust, mostly with regard to the use of prescribed fire and managed fire WFU or Fire With Benefits (FWB).  Over the holidays, ten wolves were released in Colorado.

FWIW, I think they could have handled it better, trust-wise, and maybe some lessons could be learned from their efforts.  First, let’s take a look at Cat Urbiquit’s reporting.  The “invited guests” part, and the timing with the “Wolf Update” .. I don’t think the FS on its worst days would have done either.  Transparency, accountability and meaningful involvement yield trust. Parties to which the affected communities are not invited.. held while they are invited elsewhere. It’s a bit creepy, really, to me.

Step 2: Private Party

Colorado Public Radio reported that the first of the wolf releases was kept secret from all but about 45 invited guests including Governor Polis, his husband, and top wolf advocates from around Colorado, as well as a few representatives of the media.

According to the Colorado news pool report of the event, “The crowd watched in awed silence, then some hugged each other and low murmurs started up. … When it all ended, viewers let out their breaths and small applause broke out.”

The release location had been kept secret, the pool report noted, because state wildlife officials “may reuse the release site and is concerned about protestors or the public attempting to stop or watch future releases.” Within a few hours, the location was posted on a hand-written sign outside a post office not far from the release site.

Meanwhile, two counties away in Craig, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials were making presentations to ranchers at a previously scheduled “Wolf Update for Livestock Producers” meeting hosted by Colorado State University Extension. Steamboat Radio reported, “Halfway through the meeting, CPW Area Manager Kris Middledorf told the ranchers that five wolves had just been released a few hours earlier, onto public land in Grand County.” When 9News contacted local elected officials (mayor, county commissioners and legislator) and learned none had been told about the release beforehand.

Urbigkit is fairly supportive of CPW’s approach as in this op-ed piece.

The state wildlife agency was between a rock and a hard place in moving this program forward by the imposed deadline and hurried to make the best of a less-than-desirable situation. The agency had to make choices between hard postures on opposing sides, eventually selecting moderate options. Nothing would make everyone happy.

Colorado was banking on other states to cooperate with its plans, only to learn that most weren’t going to cooperate. Oregon agreed to provide wolves to Colorado, but when it came to sourcing the wolves, all but one came from packs that were involved in livestock depredations (something  that was obviously problematic).

Unfortunately, Colorado wasn’t up front with that information, so when it became public the rosy optics of the wolf release were tainted.

Instead of being forthright with the reasons why those wolves were selected (that the voters had imposed a strict deadline and no wolves were available that weren’t from packs that hadn’t already been involved in livestock depredations) and outlining how it weighed the ramifications, the administration was silent.

When the information became public and caused the predictable controversy, a resident of the governor’s mansion attempted to discredit the reporter who had revealed the details and told the public that “everything you need to know” about the wolf release was in the government press release.

Nothing sets off alarm bells like someone in power (or in this case, power-adjacent) telling the public that all they need to know comes from a government press release.

Which makes me wonder if Colorado has the only elected official’s spouse that goes after specific journalists on Facebook? I have no idea how common that is. Cat noting that CPW was between a rock and a hard place and had to make a series of perhaps suboptimal decisions makes me think that perhaps wildlife management by initiative is not the best idea.

I also wonder whether simply treating those directly negatively affected respectfully.. giving the ranchers a heads-up; perhaps involving both sets of ranchers (Oregon and Colorado) in picking the wolves; issuing a press release simply stating they had done the best they could…

So what is it?  Either CPW, the DNR, the Govs Office or some combo doesn’t care about the communities impacted by their policies? They care but don’t have good trust-building/communication skills?  Individuals do have those skills but are overruled by others higher in the food chain?  Perhaps the State should do a lessons learned, like the FS did with prescribed fire; at least that would send the message that they care about building trust with these citizens of Colorado.


More details for those interested in depredation, packs and lethal removal in Oregon and Colorado are below.

Meanwhile apparently CPW is refusing to remove non-reintroduced wolves that have been killing cattle, dogs and sheep. Apparently there are only two left of these left, so CPW told rancher Gittleson

“After consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has made the  determination not to lethally remove these two wolves at this time. The division considered the entire history of depredation events in your area, including the most recent history of depredation events in November and December of 2023. Our assessment considered the change in pack dynamics that took place over the preceding year when most of the pack left the area and did not return. With only two of the original wolves remaining, the number and frequency of events has dropped in 2023. “

So CPW seems to be saying, “you need to take more losses because folks in Wyoming have been shooting them.” It seems like it would be in everyone’s interest to not let folks kill wolves that don’t attack livestock (parts of Wyoming) and let folks kill the ones attacking livestock.

In that vein, I thought that this was interesting from CPW.

CPW defended their selection of source wolves from Oregon, saying in a statement there were two depredation events by members of the Five Points Pack in July 2023. The state of Oregon has a Wolf Management Plan that details how to respond to livestock depredation and per the plan, ODFW provided the producer with a lethal removal permit after they requested it. The producer’s agent lethally removed four wolves from the pack in early August. The pack has not depredated since. This change in pack behavior and the lack of current depredations met CPW criteria for accepting the animals.

According to a statement, CPW teams in Oregon passed on several larger and easier-to-access packs because they had recent depredation or had a chronic or ongoing depredation history.

But not all these wolves were from the Five Points..

According to Oregon wolf depredation records, Five Points Pack wolves injured one calf and killed another in separate depredations in July of 2023; killed a cow on Dec. 5, 2022; and injured a 900-pound yearling heifer on July 17, 2022. The Noregaard Pack was involved in the confirmed killing of a calf and one possible kill in June, the Desolation Pack was involved in the confirmed kill of a steer in September and an attack on two calves in May; and two wolves came from the Wenaha Pack that had confirmed kills in September and October. One wolf released into Colorado was not associated with a pack.

So Oregonians get lethal removal permits and it sounds like Coloradans don’t.  That’s not a trust-building thing either.

According to Cat’s article:

CPW’s Technical Working Group (TWG) on the reintroduction program wrote this into its final recommendations to the agency: “No wolf should be translocated that has a known history of chronic depredation, and sourcing from geographic areas with chronic depredation events should not occur.”

The TWG wrote: “There is nuance in determining depredation habits, with consideration of trends in the behavior of an individual and a pack. If a wolf is depredating livestock, the pack it belongs to is likely to depredate as well; additionally, if a pack is depredating, it is difficult to exclude one individual as non-depredating. A known wolf or pack of wolves that have been identified as chronic depredators by the source location should not be used for translocation to Colorado.” (Citations omitted)

As all of us former bureaucrats know, “should” leaves the agency flexibility.  But once the CPW knew it had to go that way,  better communications it seems to me (contacting key folks in the ranching community) even with bad news, would lead to more trust than not telling and ranting at the journalist who investigates.


3 thoughts on “Building Trust or Not: Colorado’s Christmas Wolf Kerfuffle”

  1. It’s a mess, and it always was going to be a mess, and it will remain a mess for a long time. There is plenty of blame to go around too, it’s not like bunny huggers are the only guilty parties.

    CPW has been on the gravy train to out of state hunters forever. It’s where they got all of their money. Lots of little fiefdoms and too much money floating around. Ranchers are in on it too of course. Many ranchers don’t make very much money, hunting leases and guiding often enough was more income than cows. Now CPW is on the gravy train to different clients is all. Lots of salaried employees doing public outreach, education, heck they even had a DEI person of the correct hue.

    It will probably be 10 or 15 years until wolves run out of elk such that populations are stabilized. Eventually ranchers will be given free rein to do whatever they want, wolves will simply be another part of doing business. Many marginal ranches will probably go under, and many guide services.

    Colorado has a lot more urban people living in wolf habitat, across the state. Many have dogs, and pet miniature horses, lamas and what not. Wolves will be an issue.

    Polis is a smart guy and usually has a good political sense, he blew it on the wolves, not that he could have stopped them, but he should have known not to publicly tie himself to them. Ought to trade in that animal rights guy for a younger broke back mountain cowboy.

    • Well, given that 1) people disagree about what to do and 2) the negative impacts of policy fall disproportionately on a few groups, 3) people who want wolves (on the western slope, so they want them elsewhere) have political power in CO and can have their way… given all those things, what I don’t see is why since they are winning, they can’t be respectful towards the losers in this, dare I say magnanimous. I know there’s such a thing as a poor loser, but are there poor winners as well?

  2. Trust is a chicken and egg thing: CPW was “concerned about protestors or the public attempting to stop or watch future releases.” Has there been some untrustworthy behavior in the past that warranted some secrecy?

    “sourcing from geographic areas with chronic depredation events should not occur.” I hope “chronic” has been defined somewhere for this purpose, and maybe that definition does not support criticism of the wolf selection.


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