Colorado Parks and Wildlife is turning to a new ally in its efforts to help a Jackson County rancher protect his livestock from wolf depredation — wild burros.
Recently, CPW wildlife officers delivered six wild burros (two gelded jacks and four jennies) to rancher Don Gittleson in Walden in an attempt to decrease wolf depredations on his property. After becoming acclimated to the climate and altitude, the burros will be introduced to Gittleson’s herd of cattle.
“The idea is to make the burros become a part of the cattle herd to where they will start to protect or consider the cattle as a member of its family,” said CPW Wildlife Officer Zach Weaver, of Walden. “Don will start to introduce the burros to certain members of the herd in small increments.
“He has put the burros out with a small group of calves on his ranch. They’re still in a corral with access to heat, but he’s beginning to acclimate them … Don is monitoring the animals. He’s paying attention to how much they’re going inside to warm up. They’ll gain more hair as they need it.”
Gittleson experienced three depredation events due to wolves in December and January. After the last event, Gittleson and Weaver met with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to discuss potential methods of preventing further depredation.
Weaver said they learned that in addition to approved hazing methods like fladry and noisemakers, there was some evidence that wild burros could help prevent wolf depredations.
“APHIS told us that burros were effective at stopping predation in Oregon,” Weaver said. “We learned that wild burros are more effective because they’ve been in the wild where they’ve had to defend themselves and their herd from predation from animals like mountain lions and coyotes.”
During the last week of January, Weaver located potential wild burros for adoption in Utah that had just come off the high country in Nevada. Weaver said this was an important factor.
“We didn’t want to bring an animal that had been at low elevation, say like southern California, where they had not been in negative temperatures or seen snow. Don [Gittleson] and I wanted animals that had been at a higher elevation so, they were acclimated and had developed hair for the cold. You’re talking 5,000 feet there as opposed to 8,000 at our lowest. We also wanted mature animals that had been on the landscape and would know how to defend themselves.”
On February 27, Weaver and fellow CPW Wildlife Officer Josh Dilley drove to Axtell, Utah, and picked up six wild burros with ages ranging from 5 – 11 years old from the Axtell Wild Horse and Burro Facility.
Although it’s not a service CPW will be able to offer every rancher in Colorado, it could yield important information about how effective wild burros can be at preventing wolf depredations and Weaver said he’s been telling ranchers who reach out to him to look into the possibility of adopting burros.
“A lot of our monitoring will be based on feedback from Don for this pilot program,” Weaver said. “He’ll tell us if he’s seeing as many wolves as he has in the past, or if they’re still coming through his property at as high a frequency as they were.”
Proposition 114 – now state statute 33-2-105.8 – directs the CPW Commission to create a restoration and management plan within three years, and to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado no later than December 31, 2023. Enacting these plans will require a close partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and will be subject to their approval based on the February 10, 2022 ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
That ruling vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s (USFWS) 2020 rule delisting gray wolves across the lower 48 states. The ruling returns management authority of gray wolves in Colorado to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
While CPW will continue its planning efforts to meet the deadlines directed by statute, reintroduction will require close partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and will be subject to their approval. Their permitting requirements and processes will need to be followed as they now have management control of the species in Colorado.
In addition to being federally protected, Gray Wolves are also a state endangered species in Colorado, and wolves may not be taken for any reason other than self-defense. The gray wolf in Colorado is protected by the ESA and state law. Penalties can vary and can include fines up to $100,000, jail time and loss of hunting privileges.
CPW continues to work closely with the rancher, USDA Wildlife Services and Defenders of Wildlife to strategize and find opportunities to minimize further loss of livestock on this rancher’s property.
Prior to the District Court ruling that returned management authority of gray wolves in Colorado to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
- CPW provided the owner with cracker-shells to haze wolves and met with the owner and USDA Wildlife Services (WS) to discuss preventative options and hazing strategies, including fladry.
- On January 12, the CPW Commission passed regulations on hazing for wolves that have naturally migrated into the state, including the park in Jackson County. CPW worked with this individual ranch as well as other producers to provide resources to minimize the likelihood of conflict or depredation.