When wolves were suspected of killing livestock on the Park Range Ranch in North Park in October, ranch manager Johnny Schmidt called Colorado Parks and Wildlife and studied the response of CPW District Wildlife Manager Zach Weaver.
Schmidt was familiar with how the Wyoming Game and Fish Department investigated wolf-livestock depredation claims. Schmidt was curious if Colorado wildlife officers were up to the challenge of wolf depredation investigations and he put Weaver to the test.
Schmidt says Weaver easily passed the test.
“Zach did a really good job and I was impressed,” Schmidt said. “He was very professional and knew what he was doing. He wasn’t the kid sleeping in the class or shooting spit wads. He’d been paying attention.”
Weaver approached the case like a seasoned Wyoming officer with years of wolf experience to draw upon, Schmidt said.
“He eliminated everything [other possibilities besides wolves] and did everything procedurally correct,” Schmidt said. “He started with a big circle and worked his way in. He looked for a lot of good stuff.”
For Weaver, it was another day on the job, involving active management to address conflicts between wolves, people, livestock and other wildlife species.
“I’ve done each of these investigations the same,” Weaver said. “I go into it like any other depredation investigation. When they tell me it’s a predator, I go in and look at the totality.”
Besides learning how to carefully examine the scene where livestock died and determine the cause, Weaver said he has learned another important lesson: treating ranchers with respect.
“I talked to Johnny and asked him questions like: What other animals have been seen there?” Weaver said. “Have there been any recent wolf sightings? Have there been any bear or lion tracks in the snow? I’m establishing what is in the area.”
CPW livestock depredation investigations are critical if a ranch is to be reimbursed for a loss. CPW must determine the death was caused by big game or wolves before the agency will reimburse a rancher for a loss.
“The one thing that is always tell-tale is the carcass,” Weaver said. “If the carcass has bite marks, typically there’s hemorrhaging. In certain locations, that can tell us which animal depredated on that animal.”
If Weaver reminded Schmidt of a Wyoming wildlife officer, there’s a good reason.
Training in Wyoming
From Aug. 30-Sept. 1 2022, Weaver was one of six CPW staff members who attended a three-day wolf-livestock depredation investigation training event in Wyoming, hosted by Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD). The training included both classroom presentations by WGFD staff as well as field experience looking at wolf-livestock depredations.
“This was a really valuable training opportunity for our field staff,” said CPW Game Damage Manager Luke Hoffman. “The folks who organized and hosted this training for CPW are dedicated professionals who are extremely knowledgeable with all facets of livestock depredation investigations. CPW was able to see how Wyoming Game and Fish conducts its investigations for wolf-livestock depredations and the type of evidence to look for.”
On the first day of the training, officers performed a field necropsy on a calf that had died as a result of wolf depredation and were able to see rake marks on the outer hide that correlated to hemorrhaging underneath the hide.
“Field necropsies are really important to conduct during investigations,” Hoffman said, “If damage occurred while the animal was still alive, hemorrhaging will be visible in the underlying muscle tissue once the hide is removed.” An example is when wolves rake livestock with their front canines, you’ll see physical rake marks on the outer hide of an animal, and hemorrhaging associated with that damage under the hide.”
“This was critical training and I’m glad our staff got a lot out of it,” Hoffman said. “We’re expected to be the experts at investigating livestock damage and we make every effort to respond in a timely manner and conduct a thorough investigation. As wolves expand across the state, we’ll need our CPW staff who investigate livestock depredations to be ready to respond to those.”
The wolf-specific training in Wyoming is in addition to extensive game damage investigation training CPW’s District Wildlife Managers receive during their first year with the agency. During this training, DWMs receive training in all types of damage for which CPW is statutorily liable for. CPW staff have also received wolf-livestock depredation and wolf-livestock conflict minimization techniques training in 2021 and 2022 from Wyoming Game and Fish and USDA Wildlife Services during CPW’s annual Conservation Days training.
“There’s a good chance that every DWM in the state will encounter damage claims in their career,” Hoffman said. “So it’s not a new thing for us to be investigating livestock depredation. We’ve been doing it for decades for bear and lion claims and we do an excellent job. This was a great opportunity to get hands-on experience with wolf-livestock investigations.”
CPW Wolf Conflict Coordinator Adam Baca also attended the training in Wyoming and cited the value of the field training.
“Over the several days we got to go out and identify a wolf trail versus an ungulate trail and discuss the types of topography wolves like to run and den in ,” Baca said. “We got to learn some of those key places to look for wolf presence. The experience was really detailed, really in-depth. “
Wolf Restoration and Management in Colorado
The in-depth training in Wyoming makes all three CPW staffers confident that Schmidt is right: CPW wildlife officers will be ready to investigate wolf-livestock depredation claims around the state.
And that is critical since the draft Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan, directly addresses livestock conflicts and compensation. The draft says wolf-livestock conflicts will be addressed on a case-by-case basis using a combination of appropriate management tools, including education, non-lethal conflict minimization techniques, lethal take of wolves in rare cases involving livestock depredation, and damage payments.
The draft is available to view at cpw.state.co.us/wolves. The details of the draft plan could change before a final plan is approved by the Commission.
Details From the Draft Plan
- The primary goal of the draft plan is to identify the steps needed to recover and maintain a viable, self-sustaining wolf population in Colorado, while concurrently working to minimize wolf-related conflicts with domestic animals, other wildlife, and people.
- The public can comment on the draft plan online and in public meetings through February 22, 2023 by visiting engagecpw.org.
- Input from the Stakeholder Advisory Group and the Technical Working Group was instrumental in developing a science-based plan that incorporated important social considerations. CPW staff is attending meetings now and will be through the coming months with local decision-makers, producers, and other interested groups to communicate a clear understanding of the rules, tools, and tactics for producers and livestock owners working in areas where wolves are present. Officers are distributing printed copies in English and Spanish of CPW’s guide to reduce depredations with actions that can be implemented to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts.
Written by Travis Duncan. Travis is a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Denver. He has lived in Colorado for nearly 20 years and loves the outdoors.