wolf workshop

Photo courtesy of the Working Circle Initiative Carter Niemeyer, a retired Wildlife Services trapper and wolf biologis., talks about livestock and wolf preservation at a Working Circle Initiative workshop in California in 2017.

Defenders of Wildlife is putting the management before the wolves, announcing this week it’s expanding its Working Circle Initiative to Colorado.

The idea is to help Coloradans learn how to ranch responsibly among more predators, particularly during a recovery for wolves.

Proposition 114 on the November ballot would reintroduce gray wolves to the Western Slope after a roughly 80-year absence starting by the end of 2023. Taxpayers would cover the cost of consumed livestock, if the ballot measure passes.

Though Defenders of Wildlife helped get Colorado wolf reintroduction on the November ballot, the program isn’t tied to the campaign, said the initiative’s manager, Karin Vardaman.

Colorado is home to a number of predators — mountain lions, black bears, coyotes and feral dogs among them — so the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a predator management program for the state, which lists gray wolves as a species in the state.

Opponents to Proposition 114 note that wolves have been spotted in the state, and the state’s best course would be to let nature take its course, if the species is to survive here.

The Working Circle Initiative’s mission is to help ranchers sustain their livelihoods and understand predator recovery, including conflict resolution and land management.

The program was started in 2016 by the California Wolf Center with other partners and ranchers to help protect vulnerable livestock from large predators to minimize losses, both of livestock and wolves.

“The Working Circle Initiative has a proven record of working in a balanced way to promote predator conservation while respecting ranchers and rural communities in the West,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.

“By focusing on coexisting safely with wildlife and minimizing negative interactions between humans and wildlife on private ranches and the open range, we are helping imperiled wildlife rebound and expand to their historical ranges.”

The circle works on strategies with livestock producers and, usually, puts on public workshops and community meetings, but not so much since the pandemic began, Vardaman said.

She said the working group also will be able to do base-line risk assessments and tailored strategies for participants in the circle, as well as access and network with outside experts.

The Colorado Farm Bureau, which opposes Proposition 114, declined to comment on the new program Wednesday.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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