As frustration grows, a Colorado farmer acquires a high-tech weapon to protect livestock from wolves

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Jackson County rancher Don Gittelson has tried several non-lethal methods to deter the male North Park coyote that keeps hanging around his ranch and killing his livestock.

But now he’s ready to bring out the big gun.

Gittelson tried pasture riders, but wolves attacked his livestock without the knowledge of wolf defenders who watched his herd at night from vehicles in his pasture.

He tried donkeys, longhorn cattle, cows, fox lights, and even bells strung around cows’ necks with varying degrees of short-term success.

Gittleson now turns to a $6,000 night vision thermal recording scope, which he mounted on his .306 rifle to shoot a coyote at night if he catches it attacking his livestock.

The only problem, Gitelson said, is that while the coyote continues to scan his farm north of Walden — until Tuesday, he said — it has been waiting for Colorado for more than a month to decide whether it can use binoculars.

“Not having an answer about whether I can shoot a wolf at night is like Colorado now having to figure out how other states define chronic depredation,” said Gittelson, whose seven livestock were confirmed killed or injured by the North Park group. Those depredations involving the breeding male, No. 2101. “You would think that in the three years that they were planning to reintroduce wolves, they would have answers to these kind of questions.”

He said Colorado Parks and Wildlife asked him not to shoot a wolf with binoculars until after the state attorney general’s office could determine the legality of shooting a wolf at night, which is when all killings in the North Park range occur.

He said he first used the binoculars as a monocular, to monitor his herd of cattle near his farm house at night. The range is 2,000 yards or more, he said. Thermal imaging allows him to spot wolves, coyotes and cattle straying away from the rest of the herd.

It is very rare to catch a wolf attacking livestock. If given the chance, Gittelson said he would shoot the coyote, but first he had to make sure he knew how to operate the recording device that would serve as crucial evidence during the investigation.

“I will definitely film it because I want to put an end to what is happening here,” he said. “Given the governor and first gentlemen’s views on ranchers, I know I will be investigated. I want to get all the evidence I can if I have to do this.”

Night hunting with artificial light is permitted for a few wildlife, including coyotes and lynx, but not all wildlife in Colorado. It is illegal to hunt wolves, which are an endangered species.

Under the state’s 10(j) rule, you can kill wolves to protect human life, if the wolves are caught attacking your livestock and if the state considers them to be chronic predators.

The problem is that Colorado’s wolf recovery plan doesn’t define “chronic depredation,” an issue that Gittelson repeatedly raised in public hearings during the state’s wolf recovery planning process to no avail.

“I’m a stupid farmer, and even I knew years ago how other states define chronic depredation, but CPW is just trying to figure it out now,” Gittleson said.

The North Park group confirmed the depredation of 20 head of livestock, including 14 cattle, three working cattle dogs and three lambs, on six different farms in Jackson County over the past two years. Wolves also killed a rancher’s pet dog. This depredation slowed after three or four of the original group were legally shot across the border in Wyoming in October 2022.

The group’s most recent confirmed looting operations are:

  • Three lambs slaughtered in November 2023 by emerging black offspring No. 2101.

  • 2101 severely injured one of Gittelson’s legs on December 13, just days after Rule 10(j) took effect.

Jackson County rancher Don Gittelson walks toward a young cow that was badly injured in a confirmed wolf attack on Dec. 13, 2023, north of Walden, Colorado.

Jackson County rancher Don Gittelson walks toward a young cow that was badly injured in a confirmed wolf attack on Dec. 13, 2023, north of Walden, Colorado.

Gittleson said he would prefer that Colorado Parks and Wildlife remove the wolf and its adult offspring, which are the only known members of the North Park range. He asked the state wildlife agency to do so in December, but that request was denied.

In a letter, Jeff Davis, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the agency denied the request after considering the entire history of livestock depredation in the area as well as the most recent depredations in November and December 2023, and that the number and frequency of events decreased in 2023.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife paid about $40,000 to ranchers for livestock depredations of wolves. These include four lootings in the 2021-22 financial year and eight in the 2022-23 financial year. Two depredations occurred in the 2023-2024 fiscal year, according to the state wildlife agency.

Lawmakers are asking for North Park’s wolves to be removed

Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s denial drew sharp criticism from Democratic House Speaker Julie McCluskey and Democratic Sen. Dylan Roberts, whose districts include Jackson, Grand and Summit counties. Their letter, dated Monday, January 22, included copies sent to Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the state’s wildlife agency, and Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.

The letter asked Davis to “take swift action to remove predatory wolves” and for Colorado Parks and Wildlife to “immediately publish a draft rule defining chronic depredation” or provide a reason why the definition cannot be determined.

“We write to express our frustration and disappointment with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) recent decision denying the request of Mr. Don Gittelson and his neighbors to remove predatory wolves in North Park,” they said in the letter. We are perplexed as to why CPW refuses to help livestock producers across the state by clearly and publicly defining the term “chronic depredation.” “

Colorado sent an email to Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Thursday requesting Davis’ response regarding the lawmakers’ letter. The agency responded that Davis will provide a written response to McCluskey and Roberts addressing the concerns mentioned in their letter as well as additional questions and information from the Joint Senate Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources Committee and the House Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

The gloves are off as lawmakers tear apart state wildlife leadership over issues related to the recent release of wolves

Members of that legislative committee questioned Davis, Gibbs and Reed DeWalt, the assistant director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife after the recent release of wolves, during a hearing Wednesday.

Topics included widespread complaints about Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s lack of transparency and communication, including the state’s wildlife agency’s failure to notify Grand County officials and ranchers near the initial releases; failure to identify chronic looting in its plan; And that half of the 10 wolves released were from packs with a documented recent history of depredation in Oregon.

The harshest criticism during the highly controversial hearing came from Republican Rep. Michael Holtorf, a rancher who represents Eastern Plains counties and sits on the Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources Committee.

He called the wolf release a “dismal failure” for ranchers, commissioners and the communities where the wolves were released.

“It would be almost impossible to win the trust of Colorado ranchers,” Holtorf said. “Our memories are very long. The wolf is a predator that wants to kill, and cattle and calves are easy targets.”

He described releasing the wolf as “putting a child predator in elementary school and expecting a different outcome. This is what happens to the ranching community.”

Roberts said ranchers in his area have lost confidence in Colorado Parks and Wildlife and said they would close their doors to the agency.

Gibbs responded that this was indeed the case.

“This is accurate in terms of landowners who were willing to work with us on conservation efforts, who are now saying to our staff, ‘Hey, I really don’t want to work with you anymore,’” he said. “This is hurtful because the majority of our wildlife lives on Private Lands Although we have a lot of public land in the West Slope. “We realize we have a lot of work to do to work with stakeholders to repair relationships.”

Davis said he has already met and will continue to meet with ranching organizations to rebuild that trust.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Roberts questioned the accuracy of Davis and DeWalt’s testimony before the Water Resources Review Board at a Sept. 12 hearing. “There are probably enough wolves between the two states (Oregon and Washington) that we would get our hands on wolves that have no history of (depredation),” Roberts quoted Davis at the 2023 hearing as saying.

Roberts asked Davis if he thought his testimony was accurate

“I do and I’m happy to explain it,” Davis said. “I think people sometimes forget that these are omnivores. There’s a fallacy that if we go out and bring wolves in from the wild that have never seen livestock, they’ll never violate it. When I testified at that hearing “It wasn’t necessarily clear to me that we were talking about depredation versus chronic depredation. That’s the part that we were following in our plan and not taking wolves from herds that had a chronic history of depredation.”

Roberts asked Davis if he could say for certain that Colorado had not released wolves with a history of chronic depredation.

Davis answered yes.

Roberts then asked DeWalt about the accuracy of his testimony at the same 2023 hearing regarding notifying people in the surrounding area. “The hope is that the day (of the release) we call them out and say we are releasing the wolves into this area,” Roberts quoted DeWalt as saying. So it wouldn’t be a surprise. They will know they are in the area. These relationships are very valuable to us with these landowners. “We won’t surprise or surprise anyone.”

Roberts then asked DeWalt if the Grand County commissioners and ranchers he referred to in his 2023 testimony had been notified that their Dec. 18 release was about to happen.

Regarding county commissioners, DeWalt responded: “To my knowledge; “They were notified after their release.”

As for the landowners, he replied: “I have no knowledge of what happened.”

Roberts then asked DeWalt whether it was fair to say that the testimony DeWalt provided in 2023 did not accurately reflect what actually happened.

“I would characterize it as that part of the testimony I just mentioned was not the case, but there are other parts of the testimony that accurately reflect the connection,” DeWalt responded.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has decided not to release five additional wolves from Oregon by mid-March, citing a need for the agency to pause to self-review and address issues with its recent releases, Davis said.

The agency recently announced it has acquired up to 15 additional wolves from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington, which will be captured and released in Colorado between December 2024 and March 2025.

This article originally appeared in Fort Collins Colorado: A Colorado farmer uses a high-tech method to target wolves to protect livestock

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