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Dead wolf raises questions on animal management

DENVER (AP) - The discovery of a dead wolf from Yellowstone National Park west of Denver lends fresh urgency to the question of how to manage the animals should they ever be established in Colorado.

The possibility that the 2-year-old female gray wolf traveled nearly 500 miles from northwestern Wyoming to the fringes of Colorado's populous foothills drives home the need to devise a plan, members of the state's new wolf management task force said Tuesday.

"It's the very reason why we worked with other ag groups and the Division of Wildlife to start this upcoming process," said Terry Frankhauser, vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, which is represented on the task force.

The group, in the works for months, will meet for the first time Thursday. It is made up of environmentalists, ranchers, biologists and hunters.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission last year approved interim guidelines for dealing with wolves that may migrate from Yellowstone National Park and Idaho, where they were released in the 1990s.

The state Division of Wildlife received unconfirmed reports of a wolf-like animal with a radio collar near Gore Mountain and the town of Toponas south of Steamboat Springs in late May. Division spokesman Todd Malmsbury said there's no telling if those reports were connected to the radio-collared wolf found dead along Interstate 70 in the mountains last weekend.

A necropsy, or autopsy, will be done at a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service laboratory in Ashland, Ore., to determine how the animal died. Fish and Wildlife will also try to figure out if the wolf roamed to Colorado on its own or was killed elsewhere and dumped along I-70.

The wolf had broken legs, and likely was hit by a car, said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for Fish and Wildlife in Helena, Mont.

"We've known for some time they were right on our border and that they're going to show up any day," said Bonnie Kline, executive director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association.

The prospect of wild wolves in Colorado for the first time since the mid-1930s horrifies some Coloradans and excites others.

Ranchers fear the loss of livestock and grazing rights on public land if the federally protected animals once again wander the state.

Ranchers report that for every six likely killings of livestock by wolves, only one can be confirmed, said Kline, a member of the wolf management task force.

Only confirmed wolf kills are eligible for compensation from private and public programs designed to help stem the losses, Kline said.

Rob Edward sees the prospect of wolves in Colorado as the restoration of an important part of the West. Wolves were eradicated from most of the West by hunting, trapping and poisoning until the federal government started recovery efforts in the Yellowstone area and Arizona and New Mexico just a few years ago.

"We owe it to our grandchildren to have a long-range vision of the wild Colorado we all want to pass on to our grandchildren," said Edward, a task force member and staffer with Boulder-based Sinapu, advocates for the recovery of native carnivores in the southern Rockies.

One point of agreement is that a lone wolf is a long way from a self-sustaining population. Bangs of Fish and Wildlife said it took about five decades for wolves migrating from Canada to establish a pack in Montana.

Wolves didn't return to Wyoming until Fish and Wildlife released Canadian wolves in Yellowstone, Bangs said.

"A lone wolf just doesn't mean anything, other than it just makes people nutty," he said.

Federal officials will try to determine if the wolf found in Colorado made it there on her own or was killed and dumped. The wolf's last radio signal was detected near Mammoth Hot Springs in the northern Yellowstone on Jan. 15, about 490 miles from where she was found.

Bangs said while it's not unheard for a wolf to migrate 500 miles, it's unusual.

"We'll do a law enforcement investigation," Bangs said.

The penalty for killing a wolf, covered by the Endangered Species Act, is a $100,000 fine, six months in jail and loss of fishing and hunting privileges.

The federal government has approved wolf management plans by Montana and Idaho, which want to see the wolf taken off the Endangered Species List. Fish and Wildlife has rejected Wyoming's plan to list wolves as predators in most of the state, which would have allowed them to be killed at will.

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