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Two sides come together to find coexistence strategies for wolves, humans, and livestock

Wolves
Posted at 6:55 AM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 09:09:11-05

WALDEN  — Rancher Don Gittleson comes from a family who raised horses.

As Gittleson works to protect his cattle from wolves who have migrated here, he believes there's a disconnect between ranchers and wolf advocates, something he hopes to change.

"It's more than their passion for an animal, for their cattle or their horses or their sheep, it also their livelihood. So, that's something that a lot of people maybe don't necessarily understand,” said Gittleson.

After losing some of his cattle to wolves who have migrated here, Gittleson realized he needed to start working with people on the other side of things.

With an open mind, Gittleson invited Karen Vardaman, founder of the Working Circle to his ranch.

“He decided to use this as an opportunity and reach across the aisle to the wolf advocacy side and I'd never seen anything like that before, personally,” said Vardaman.

"Which is why I invited a lot of the stakeholders to come here. Especially the ones that weren't on the ranching side of it, because they haven't been here to see what this situation is and they really don't understand the livestock industry at all,” said Gittleson.

"We need to come together as people,” said Vardaman.

The Working Circle, a nonprofit that works to support ranch families and wolves to coexist, has been volunteering their time to help Gittleson.

So far, about 20 volunteers have taken overnight shifts on the ranch to keep an eye on the livestock.

While these volunteers are passionate about the gray wolves' returning to the landscape, they also want to get to know the rancher.

“I often say it's not a cattle problem or a wolf problem, it's a people issue. In Colorado, we have an opportunity to finally get it right but we need to focus on what it is that we want and not put all of that energy into fighting or fear of what we don't want,” said Vardaman.

Human presence, an electric fence, and lights are all tools being used to keep the wolves away.

Gittleson plans to utilize wild donkeys as guard animals to help protect his livestock from the wolves.

"They have a lot of donkeys that don't have a home and that have probably used to predators when they were out in the wild. They're probably used to being around predators,” said Gittleson.

Gittleson appreciates the help, but he knows these are all temporary solutions.

Several groups, including the National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife, are working with him to find long-term solutions.

“And that’s really focusing on the cattle, trying to reduce vulnerability in the cattle to predation,” said Vardaman.

While they do support ranchers, those at the Working Circle hope to see the state's environment benefit from the reintroduction of wolves.

"It's the fact they keep ungulates, deer, elk on the move and by keeping these animals on the move, rotating and their grazing practices, it's healthier for the land and soil and it allows plants to recover,” said Vardaman.

Their hope is for humans, wolves, and livestock to coexist all while learning from one another.

"These are real people we're talking about on both sides and trying to create that greater understanding,” said Vardaman.

"I don't see this getting to be a working plan or to actually work if both sides don't get to understand each other a little bit better,” said Gittleson.