WALDEN, Colo. — There’s plenty of space in Jackson County.
Yet Carlos Atencio has a new neighbor causing big problems.
"They’ve literally got hundreds of thousands of acres that they can roam around here. They’ve been in our backyard. They’re not coexisting with us at all," said Atencio, whose ranch is nearly 11,000 acres outside of Walden.
Over the past few weeks, a pack of wolves that ranchers believe migrated down from Wyoming has killed several cows and a dog in the area.
The deaths come as Colorado prepares to reintroduce wolves to the state after voters approved a ballot initiative in November 2020.
The pack of wolves showed up on Atencio's ranch a couple of weeks ago.
"It was a Sunday morning," Atencio said. "I got up really early, 5 a.m., heard something on the porch, and Izzy was actually sitting there right at the door, which is pretty rare."
Izzy, one of Atencio's working dogs, made it out alive. Buster, his other dog, was found nearby.
"We found the carcass of my dead dog Buster," Atencio said. "They did the investigation. It’s pretty obvious. There were wolf tracks everywhere."
The pack of wolves has ranchers outside of Walden sounding an alarm about the animals that have migrated down through Wyoming.
Colorado plans to begin reintroducing more wolves in the coming years.
"They’re going to be an issue not only with the cattle and the livestock, they’re going to be an issue with pets," Atencio said. "My dog got eaten."
Don Gittleson ranches up the valley from Atencio. The pawprints he finds from the wolves around his property are nearly the size of his boot.
He said one wolf has been in the area for years. Now a pack has formed.
"Just one by itself was not a problem," Gittleson said. "But once there’s a bunch, it’s a big problem."
Gittleson’s cows fell victim.
Ranchers in Colorado aren’t allowed to shoot wolves. The state recently allowed them to use non-lethal weapons to try to scare them off, and flags to try to deter them. Gittleson chooses to keep guard all night.
"We’ve had three animals that were either killed or we had to put down, and a fourth one that was injured," Gittleson said. "We go out around midnight because they haven’t come around here before that. They’re usually gone before first light. In that time frame, we stay up all night."
The state reimburses ranchers for livestock killed by wolves. Ranchers say that doesn’t account for the calves that were killed before being born.
Gray wolves are an endangered species in Colorado. That’s why ranchers can’t shoot and kill them, unless it’s for self-defense. If they do, they could be fined up to $100,000, get a year in jail, and lose their hunting license privileges for life.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife must create a plan to introduce wolves back into the state by the end of 2023, according to the ballot initiative that passed.
As Izzy recovers, the ranchers in Jackson County know that all this space isn’t always enough for everyone.
"They tore open her belly a little bit. They bit her pretty good on her hamstring. She has quite a bit of bite marks on top of her," Atencio said. "We had our coyotes, we had our bears, our mountain lions and stuff. But the wolves are a different beast altogether."
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