Colorado Capitol: New bill would make it harder for ranchers to be compensated for livestock killed by wolves

Colorado's Joint Budget Committee approves request for funding non-lethal methods to deter wolves.
Adam Messer/AP

Colorado ranchers would have to use non-lethal wolf deterrence measures to be eligible for state compensation if their livestock is killed by the predators under a bill introduced on Wednesday afternoon in the state legislature. 

Non-lethal deterrence tools include hanging flags, using flashing lights, blasting sounds, and deploying guard dogs under House Bill 1375.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tammy Story, D-Evergreen, would also set aside an unspecified amount of funds to help ranchers pay for the non-lethal tools. 

“I’m hoping it will ensure that livestock owners commit to utilizing non-lethal co-existence tools in order to protect their herd and their livelihood,” she said in an interview with The Aspen Times. “At the same time, it provides gray wolves a fighting chance to establish and thrive here in Colorado.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) released 10 gray wolves on Colorado’s Western Slope in December and January as part of the state’s year voter-approved re-introduction efforts. 

The bill may face an uphill battle at the Capitol, however. House members rejected an amendment similar to House Bill 1375 that Story offered on another wolf bill last year. But the new measure highlights the still-simmering disagreement among elected officials about how to handle wolf re-introduction.

House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Frisco, are among those who oppose the bill’s approach. 

“Those deterrents are very expensive,” McCluskie said. “If ultimately (ranchers) can’t afford all the different types of deterrence, I still want to see them receive compensation for their losses.”

She said the grant program proposed under the legislation may not cover deterrence tools for all ranchers.

The amount of funding set aside for non-lethal measures will be determined when the bill is analyzed by nonpartisan staff at the Capitol, Story said. Another bill from last year, House Bill 1265, created a “Born to be Wild” license plate with the proceeds earmarked for non-lethal wolf deterrence. 

Her bill is also likely to trigger strong resistance among ranchers, many of whom have adamantly opposed wolf re-introduction since it was first placed on the ballot as Proposition 114 in 2020. Ranchers across the state worry that re-introducing wolves, some of which have killed livestock in Colorado in the past, will put their livelihoods at risk. The compensation for lost livestock has been one of the main tools to assuage ranchers’ anxieties.

“It won’t be easy for sure,” Story said of getting House Bill 1375 through the legislature. 

In 2023, Western Slope lawmakers from both parties brought a bill allocating $350,000 annually to a compensation fund providing up to $15,000 in re-imbursement per animal killed or injured by a wolf or wolves. Under Proposition 114, the state was required to create such a fund. 

Story was the sole member of the House Agriculture Water and Natural Resources Committee to vote against Senate Bill 255, the 2023 measure creating the compensation fund.

Roberts, who was a prime sponsor of Senate Bill 255, said the bill would go back on years of work with stakeholders.

“Adding more restrictions to ranchers getting just compensation for any losses they experienced I think presupposes that ranchers aren’t doing everything they can to protect their livestock in the first place,” he said. “That’s factually wrong, and to think otherwise is insulting.”

Once Proposition 114 was approved, CPW spent the next three years developing a plan for re-introduction that emphasizes the use of non-lethal mitigation tools. House Bill 1375 would go beyond that plan.

Under a federal rule known as 10(j), ranchers and wildlife officials are allowed to kill wolves that are attacking livestock.

The bill would also:

  • Disallow ranchers from killing a wolf attacking their livestock if a rancher doesn’t properly bury or remove any livestock carcass from their property 
  • Require a guard dog to be actively working to protect livestock when attacked by a wolf for its owner to be eligible for any compensation 
  • Mandate that CPW include data on the non-lethal methods in an annual report 
  • Require the state to create a “conflict prevention plans” for areas where wolves are present
  • Creates “native-carnivore coexistence officers” to implement the requirements of the bill

CPW and the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill. 

Story is expecting the bill to be amended during its first hearing in the Agriculture, Water, and Natural Resources committee. 

Sen. Kevin Priola, D-Henderson, is also a prime sponsor of the bill.