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Native-carnivore bill would tie depredation compensation to coexistence strategies

Giving reintroduced wolves a ‘fighting chance’ would require ‘new way of doing business’ for some ranchers

Amy Hedden Marsh
Aspen Journalism
A guardian dog is an effective non-lethal tool to keep predators away from herds. HB 1375 would compensate ranchers for the loss of a guardian dog to predators
Photo courtesy of Lava Lake Lamb and Livestock/Wood River Wolf Project

This story is provided by Aspen Journalism, a nonprofit, investigative news organization. For more, visit http://aspenjournalism.org

Colorado state Rep. Tammy Story stepped into the world of gray wolves during last year’s legislative session when Western Slope lawmakers pushed forward Senate Bill 256, a bill potentially delaying wolf reintroduction if a federal plan was not finalized that would allow lethal control of wolves that preyed on livestock. 

The bill was introduced less than a month before the end of the public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 10(j) Rule. That rule, implemented late last year, designated gray wolves a nonessential experimental species in the state, meaning they could be legally killed if they killed livestock. Wolf-reintroduction proponents thought SB 256 was redundant and an end run around the will of the voters.



SB 256 passed the House and Senate in early May. Story said she worked on amendments that weren’t included in the final bill. “So I worked to share with colleagues why this bill was problematic and what it would mean,” she said. After Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, vetoed SB 256 on May 16, Story wanted to do more to ensure the success of gray wolf reintroduction. “That’s why I’m working on this policy to better ensure that we put in statute that this work should be done,” she said. “We’re trying to ensure that we protect livestock owners and their livestock but also give wildlife a fighting chance to have sustainable lives.” 

Fladry surrounds a herd of sheep in Idaho’s Wood River Valley. Brightly colored flags flapping along a fenceline can be an effective nonlethal deterrent protecting livestock from wolves and other predator species.
Lava Lake Lamb and Livestock/Wood River Wolf Project

Dallas Gudgell, policy and tribal outreach coordinator for Idaho-based International Wildlife Coexistence Network (IWCN), told Aspen Journalism that conservation groups were caught off guard by SB 256. “The special interests of the livestock producers had all their ducks in a row. They dropped 256 late in the session. They knew they had all the votes, and they went for it,” he said. “And the conservation community was just reacting and reeling.” 




So, he and longtime field ecologist Delia Malone of Redstone decided to develop a wildlife coexistence bill. Story was, Malone said, “one of the few that was willing to stand up and fight [SB 256] on behalf of the citizens of Colorado who voted for [Proposition 114] and for wolves. She was kind of a natural to go to for this bill.”

On March 13, Story, a Democrat whose District 25 is comprised of western Jefferson County including Evergreen and Conifer, introduced House Bill 1375 — the Native Carnivore Nonlethal Coexistence Act. The bill would make reimbursement for livestock killed by predators dependent on use of nonlethal coexistence strategies. Democratic state Reps. Lorena Garcia, Tim Hernandez, Mandy Lindsay and Javier Mabrey, as well as state Sen. Kevin Priola, D-District 13, are co-sponsors. The bill was assigned to the House Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources Committee, where it will have its first hearing Monday.

Beginning last summer, Story consulted with stakeholders, including Malone, Gudgell and Suzanne Asha Stone, director and founder of IWCN, to craft HB 1375. “As it turns out,” Story said, “there is an MOU [memorandum of understanding] out there,” pointing to an agreement between Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the state Department of Agriculture that was signed Nov. 8. 

The MOU sets forth how the agencies will help agricultural producers reduce livestock-predator conflict, including with nonlethal coexistence strategies. “You know, like all the information that a livestock producer would need to know about how to utilize those tools and support after they get them up,” said Story, adding that most everything in the MOU is reflected in her bill. “But the statute will have a stronger voice.” 

Bill ties compensation to coexistence methods for all apex carnivores

Two types of fladry fencing can be used to deter wolves from livestock. Non-electrified is simply called fladry. Turbo fladry is electrified and can be useful for two to three months because of the flapping flags and the shock wolves will receive if they are bold enough to touch the electrified wire.
U.S. Department of Agriculture/Creative Commons photo

The bill’s essence — and possibly its flashpoint — lies in requiring livestock owners to use nonlethal coexistence strategies and dispose of carcasses before they can receive compensation for livestock killed by native carnivores. In other words, a livestock grower who loses a cow, sheep or livestock guardian dog (the bill does not include other livestock guardian animals) to a predator must already be using nonlethal tools in order to get paid for the loss.

Key words are “native carnivore.” Malone told Aspen Journalism that the bill is not a wolf bill. “It’s an apex predator bill,” she said. In short, the bill covers bears, mountain lions and gray wolves — basically any wildlife that is “a member of the mammalian order of Carnivora and an apex carnivore,” according to the bill’s language.  

Story believes that nonlethal coexistence methods work and wants to help make wolf reintroduction successful. Colorado’s gray wolves were gone by the mid-1940s, victims of purposeful eradication. It has been nearly 80 years since most of Colorado’s livestock producers have had to deal with wolves. “If they are using those tools effectively and they have gray wolf depredation that is confirmed by a specialist that has had the training to be able to truly identify whether it was gray wolf predation or not, then they will get compensated,” Story said.

Rep. Tammy Story, a Democrat representing western Jefferson County, pushed back against plans last year to potentially delay wolf reintroduction. This session, she’s sponsoring a bill that would require livestock growers employ nonlethal deterrents in order to qualify for depredation compensation. “We’re trying to ensure that we protect livestock owners and their livestock but also give wildlife a fighting chance to have sustainable lives.”
Courtesy photo via Facebook

According to CPW’s final Colorado Wolf Reintroduction and Management Plan (CWRMP), livestock producers are not required to use nonlethal coexistence strategies, which are essentially scare tactics. Nonlethal deterrents include fladry (brightly colored flags flapping along a fence line), automatic flashing “fox” lights, and noise to keep predators away from livestock. Range riders — humans on horseback who travel with the herds — and carcass removal are also part of the nonlethal mix. 

Carcass removal is critical because carcasses of livestock that die of causes other than predators are an attractant. The bill is strict about removing these, stating that during lambing and calving season, all carcasses must be buried, removed or rendered inedible to native carnivores without using a substance toxic to wildlife within 36 hours after the owner learns of the animal’s death. If the owner fails to comply, resulting in the death of livestock, CPW will not issue a permit to kill the carnivore. 

“The predator gets a pass because it was your own fault that you attracted the predator to that area,” said Malone, adding that natural prey are elk and deer, not livestock. “It’s better to prevent predators from preying on livestock because once they turn to livestock, it’s hard to reverse that,” she said.

Proving that a carcass caused further predation will be a negotiating point in the bill. “How do we know and how can we prove as advocates of coexistence that it was the carcass that initially drew the predator there in the first place?,” Malone said. “Those are details that we need to work out.” 

The CWRMP includes information about conflict management between wolves and livestock, including a conflict-minimization program in which CPW will lend nonlethal materials to livestock owners on a case-by-case basis and inform them of other techniques. But use of the tools is strictly voluntary.

Gudgell told Aspen Journalism that the discussion about nonlethal coexistence should have started long before Proposition 114, the ballot measure initiating wolf reintroduction that a slim majority of voters approved in 2020. “That was a good grassroots movement that got [Proposition 114] passed to reintroduce wolves,” he said. “But then it just became ‘Let’s just get paws on the ground, no matter what.’ There’s a lot that could and should have been done in advance of that around coexistence and around nonlethal management.”

Depredation compensation is guaranteed, but nonlethal methods are not

Wood River Wolf Project range riders. If signed into law, HB 1375 will help ranchers pay for seasonal range riders.
Lava Lake Lamb and Livestock/Wood River Wolf Project

Funding to compensate agricultural producers for livestock depredation by mountain lions, bears and wolves is guaranteed. CPW’s Game Damage Program (GDP) governs reimbursement for mountain lion kills and bear kills and other big game damage. But, said Malone, the GDP only compensates for losses to big game. “It cannot be used for wolves because wolves are not classified as big game,” she said, “and we don’t want them to be.” 

Senate Bill 255 created the Wolf Depredation Compensation Fund (WDCF) in 2023, which guarantees reimbursement for proven wolf kills or injuries. For the current fiscal year, ending in June, $175,000 goes to the WDCF. For every fiscal year thereafter, $350,000 will be transferred to the WDCF for livestock-loss compensation. This money comes from the state’s general fund, whose largest revenue sources are income and sales taxes. In other words, funds going into the WDCF are dedicated and will always be available for compensation for livestock killed by wolves. 

Funding for nonlethal coexistence strategies, however, is dependent upon license plate sales. The Born to Be Wild Act, passed in 2023, funds nonlethal coexistence methods for wolves based on the sale of a specialized license plate. But it does not guarantee an annual appropriation. 

According to the statute, the Born to Be Wild (BTBW) license plate sells for $100 the first year. Twenty-five dollars goes to the state Highway Users Fund, $25 goes to the Colorado DRIVES fund, and $50 goes into CPW’s Wildlife Cash Fund for nonlethal control. In subsequent years, the plate can be renewed for $50, all of which goes to nonlethal methods.

The BTBW plate launched Jan. 1. As of Feb. 29, 2,190 BTBW plates had been registered out of a total of 6,205,936 license plates registered in the state during the same time period. The BTBW plate is part of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) category of Group Special License Plate (GSLP), which includes 61 other types of plates, eight of which are retired. Total GSLP registrations as of the end of February made up 6.24% of all registrations. The BTBW plate made up .04% of GSLP sales. 

For comparison, the state’s Columbine plate (1.21%), Wildlife Sporting (.57%) and the Pioneer plate (.49%) were the top three, followed by Ski Country USA (.46%) and Adopt a Shelter Pet (.43%). Derek Kuhn, DMV communications supervisor, told Aspen Journalism in an email that the BTBW plate has raised $109,500 so far for wolf coexistence strategies.

It is unknown how many more people will sign up for the BTBW plate this year or any other year. But HB 1375 would eliminate the guesswork by guaranteeing funding for nonlethal methods. “There is a compensation package that’s in-statute,” said Story. 

Coexistence in Idaho’s Wood River Valley

Fladry consists of polypropylene cording or similar material on which red or orange cloth flagging or plastic vinyl taping is hung at intervals and strung on temporary or permanent fence posts. First used in Europe to surround wolves to hunt them, fladry has been adapted for use as a nonlethal wolf deterrent. Because carnivores are often wary of new items in their environment (like fluttering flags), they are cautious about crossing the fladry barrier. USDA photo by Wildlife Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture/Creative Commons photo

These methods have been successful in parts of Idaho, as evidenced by the Wood River Wolf Project (WRWP) in the central part of the state, now in its 17th year. Suzanne Asha Stone has spent three decades working on wolf reintroduction, management and nonlethal coexistence in the West. She founded the WRWP in the Ketchum Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest, after the Phantom Hill wolf pack killed 12 sheep and a guardian dog in 2007.  

According to results of a WRWP study on which she worked — and published in 2017 in Oxford University’s Journal of Mammalogy — local ranchers and farmers decided to use nonlethal coexistence methods as an alternative to killing the Phantom Hill pack. No further sheep losses were reported that year.

Stone told Aspen Journalism that last year, 24,000 sheep roamed the WRWP area. “Out of that, we lost zero sheep to wolves [in 2023],” she said. (Two sheep were reported killed by wolves, Stone said, but they were never confirmed as wolf kills). “We have monitored and confirmed and proved wolves on the landscape in the same regions where the sheep are, same areas, sometimes the same meadows,” she added. “Our 16-year average is [a loss of] less than five sheep a year to wolves in that area.”

Stone said the IWCN has also worked with cattle ranchers across the West. “It’s really a matter of just being aware of how to approach this, what the methods are, when to best apply them, and getting the training to have people on the ground to evaluate the sites and ensure that the best methods are used,” she said.

Fladry doesn’t work when it’s on the ground

For fiscal year 2022, CPW’s annual allocation for wolf claims and conflict minimization was $50,000. The agency doled out a little more than $24,000 for nonlethal conflict-management methods. Tools such as fladry, fox lights and noise deterrents were paid for, but the question is: Were they actually used?

Stone recalled visiting a Colorado rancher who has complained of wolf kills since 2021. Despite stated use of nonlethal deterrents, he requested that CPW shoot the wolves late last year. CPW refused his request.

“I was out on the ranch with [the rancher] in the spring right after his first losses started and his fladry was laying on the ground and it had been there, he said, for months,” Stone said. “It’s like, fladry doesn’t work on the ground.” She added that the fox lights sent to him were still in the box weeks after he received them. “These tools don’t work if they’re not used correctly and consistently,” she said.

Suzanne Asha Stone, founder and director of the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, instructs ranchers in Australia how to use fladry.
Josh Adler/International Wildlife Coexistence Network

Nonlethal methods are more labor- and time-intensive, and the equipment costs money that livestock producers sometimes don’t have or don’t want to spend. A range rider in Conservation Northwest’s Range Rider Pilot Program in Washington state, for example, can cost $20,000 per grazing season. According to Colorado State University’s People and Predators program, electrified fladry in 2018 cost $2,600 per mile. That same year, a battery for the electrified fladry cost $600, with fence posts running about $400. Those costs have since increased due to inflation.

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services spent $35,000 on nonlethal management tools in Colorado — specifically, six Turkish Kangal livestock guardian dogs were given to sheep ranchers and cattle ranchers around the state. Nothing was spent on other projects, such as fladry, range riders, electric fencing or audio/visual deterrents. 

Stone said preventive, nonlethal management tools on the Wood River Wolf Project are cheaper than lethal management in Idaho, where wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s. And livestock losses are fewer. “We’re spending less money than the traditional lethal control where they bring in helicopters and sharpshooters and things like that — all of that to kill wolves after they’ve gone through killing livestock,” she said. “Their losses, outside of our project area, are over 10 times higher than ours, and they are killing entire packs of wolves.” 

Story said the idea of HB 1375 is to help incentivize livestock growers.”If compensation is important to them for their loss, then they need to do their part to coexist with the wildlife that’s out there to better ensure that their herd is not impacted,” she said. “It is a new way of doing business for some for sure.” 

Sources of nonlethal management funding

The bill gives CPW permission to enter into “cost- and work-sharing agreements, seek and accept grants or donations from private or public sources.” Story said, There are funds that already exist that talk about coexistence or wildlife conservation.” The bill’s  fiscal note was posted on the Colorado General Assembly website on March 27, showing that the bill will cost $1.27 million to implement, including the hiring of 11 full-time employees (FTE). Appropriations from the state for fiscal year 2024 include: 

  • $1,016,063 from the Wildlife Cash Fund to the Department of Natural Resources and 10.3 FTE.
  • $19,900 reappropriated to the Department of Personnel and Administration.
  • $115,218 reappropriated to the Department of Law, with one half-time employee.
  • $92,264 from the state General Fund to the Department of Agriculture and one FTE.

Alexa Kelly, research analyst for the state Legislative Council, worked on the fiscal note with various stakeholders. She told Aspen Journalism that the centrally appropriated items listed in the expenditure table are not included in the appropriations, which explains why the expenditure and appropriation amounts don’t match. “Those are things like insurance and benefits that are included in the FTEs,” she said. “So, while it’s included in the fiscal note, just to show the cost, it’s not included in the appropriation for the bill.”

Malone said more money from CPW’s Game Damage Program, which is funded by the Wildlife Cash Fund (WCF), could be used for nonlethal management strategies. The WCF is set up within the Department of Natural Resources from licenses, permits and fees. “A very small portion of that money is currently being used by producers to implement nonlethal coexistence strategies,” she said. 

In fact, for fiscal year 2022, CPW’s total game damage allocation was $1,282,500: $548,621 was paid out in claims for livestock killed by big game animals, mostly bears and mountain lions, and nearly $318,000 went to prevention materials, leaving about $416,000 remaining in the fund. “Most of that [nonlethal management] funding was used around apiaries, for fencing to prevent bears getting into honey and so forth,” said Malone. “So, almost a half a million dollars wasn’t used in 2022 that was available for nonlethal coexistence.” 

Ecologist Delia Malone (and Wally) near Ivanhoe Lake, Colorado.
Courtesy photo

Since HB 1375 is a predator bill and not just focused on gray wolves, Malone thinks money from the Game Damage Program would be a good fit. But, in order to implement the bill, the legislature must grant permission to spend $1,016,063 from the WCF.

Voluntary use of nonlethal coexistence tools under the CWRMP leaves the door open for livestock growers not to use them. At the CPW public meetings during the creation of the CWRMP, there were plenty of complaints about reintroduction itself, plenty of fear and “devil wolf” talk born of a belief about wolves that Malone said is not science-based. “Some ranchers say the easiest way to coexist is to kill them,” she said. 

Gudgell told Aspen Journalism that he is already trying to extinguish misinformation fires. “We’re hearing rumors that the [livestock growers’] take on this is that [HB 1375] will eliminate lethal methods of management,” he said. “It doesn’t.” 

He said HB 1375’s impact on livestock growers is like the carrot and the stick. The carrot of talking with ranchers about caring for predators as a natural part of the ecosystem isn’t enough, he said. The bill is the stick. “This is a stick that says: Try nonlethal coexistence methods. Here’s the tools. Here’s the money. Here’s the training,” he said. “Give it a try, and if you do and you lose livestock, we’ll pay you for them.” 

Aspen Journalism is an independent, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water, environment, social justice and more. Visit http://aspenjournalism.org.

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