Wyoming ranchers will shoot on sight if Colorado wolves stray into Cowboy state

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Ranchers in Wyoming say they are willing to shoot wolves on sight to protect their livestock, following a controversial decision by neighboring Colorado to release several of the large canines back into the wild.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife released five gray wolves at an undisclosed location in a remote part of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains on Dec. 18 as part of a voter-approved measure to increase their numbers.

The move sparked criticism from ranchers in Colorado and bordering Wyoming who fear the wolves might go after sheep and cattle. The wolves were transplanted from Oregon, and it was revealed that some of those carnivores might have been involved in killing livestock in their home state.

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But ranchers in Wyoming told Cowboy State Daily that they will embrace their state’s shoot-to-kill policy should the wolves cross into their state and threaten their livestock. Wyoming has a “predatory” zone for wolves covering most of the state in which they can be shot on sight. 

“If any of those wolves cross over into Wyoming, they’re no longer protected,” Jim Magagna, a sheep rancher and executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, told Cowboy State Daily. 

“They’re classified as predators and they can be removed. I’m not convinced that there is any wolf or any pack of wolves that isn’t capable of becoming acclimated to killing livestock.”

Dennis Sun, a cattle rancher and Wyoming Livestock Roundup publisher, said that it is only a matter of time before the wolves cross state lines given their propensity for wandering, even though Colorado’s plans to keep a 60-mile buffer zone between its wolf release sites and the Wyoming state line.

A picture of a wolf in captivity

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“Despite the availability of food sources, they’re going to travel,” Sun said. “When wolves kick yearlings out of the group, they travel.”

Meanwhile, Colorado officials anticipate releasing 30 to 50 wolves within the next five years in hopes the program starts to fill in one of the last remaining major gaps in the western U.S. for the species. Gray wolves historically ranged from northern Canada to the desert southwest, according to the Associated Press.

The state voted 50.91% to 49.09% for the reintroduction effort in a 2020 ballot measure that sharpened divides between rural and urban residents. City and suburb dwellers largely voted to reintroduce the apex predators into the rural areas where prey can include livestock that help drive local economies and big game such as elk that are prized by hunters. 

It was staunchly opposed in conservative rural areas where ranchers worry about attacks on livestock. It was seen as part of a larger battle between western Colorado’s rural communities and the state’s liberal leaders who embrace renewable energy and tourism, eclipsing economic mainstays such as fossil fuel extraction and agriculture.

An image of about 20 cattle grazing in a field in Wyoming

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Hunting groups also have raised concerns that wolves will reduce the size of elk herds and other big game animals that the predators eat.

However, wolves will remain protected for the foreseeable future in Colorado. 

To allay livestock industry fears, ranchers who lose livestock or herding and guard animals to wolf attacks will be paid up to $15,000 per lost animal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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