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Colorado wildlife officials just legalized hazing wolves. It came too late for a cowboy whose dog was killed.

Ranchers can now use rubber bullets, other methods against problem wolves, ahead of planned reintroduction to the Western Slope

A probable wolf print in the snow at a North Park ranch where cowboy Carlos Atencio's dog Buster was killed by a wolf on Jan. 9. (Courtesy Carlos Atencio)
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A new rule adopted by Colorado wildlife officials allowing ranchers to haze wolves that get too close to livestock operations came too late for a North Park cowboy whose dog was killed last weekend by a wolf. 

Buster, an 8-year-old border collie, was killed by a wolf on a ranch in Jackson County in north central Colorado in the early morning hours of Jan. 9, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials confirmed. The killing was the work of a wolf pack that killed a heifer on a neighboring ranch on Dec. 19, CPW spokesman Travis Duncan said. 

Buster, right, an 8-year-old border collie, was killed by a wolf on a ranch in North Park, Colorado wildlife officials said. Izzy, left, Buster’s companion, was injured in the attack but survived. (Courtesy Carlos Atencio)

“Buster was part of my family,” said cowboy Carlos Atencio, who raised Buster from a puppy. “It’s a huge loss. He was a staple on the ranch.”

Izzy, a 10-year-old border collie who was Buster’s companion, was injured but survived the attack, Atencio said. 

“She had puncture wounds on her backside, hamstring and stomach, but she’s doing better,” said Atencio, 44. “It could’ve been worse. Looks like Buster put up enough of a fight for her to get away.”

Atencio said he wishes ranchers had the option to kill wolves that go after livestock and pets – which is illegal in Colorado, where wolves are considered endangered. Killing a wolf in Colorado is punishable by up to a $100,000 fine, a year in jail, and a lifetime loss of hunting license privileges. 

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“It feels like my hands are tied,” Atencio said.

CPW commissioners passed an emergency resolution Wednesday allowing ranchers to haze wolves with methods including rubber bullets, chasing, guard animals, noisemakers or “fladry” – flags hung along fence lines. Hazing gray wolves was prohibited under federal law until their listing on the federal Endangered Species Act was lifted in 2020. 

Izzy, a 10-year-old border collie, survived a wolf attack in North Park on Jan. 9, but her companion Buster did not. (Courtesy Carlos Atencio)

CPW officials are developing guidelines for a voter-approved measure to reintroduce wolves to Colorado, with a deadline at the end of 2023. The pack that killed Buster wandered south from Wyoming, where wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s. 

Wolf advocates who spoke at the CPW commissioners meeting said they were encouraged by the new rules. 

“This is a great first step forward for the livestock community to protect their property from predation by wolves,” said Tom Zieber, a Gunnison resident and member of the Colorado Wolf Coalition, a wolf advocacy group. “I wholeheartedly support this.”

CPW commissioner Charles Garcia felt the rule still fell short because it only allows hazing of wolves to defend livestock or other animals used for profit in agricultural operations, as opposed to all pets. 

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“I can’t do anything to protect my dog, but if I go buy a chicken I’m good?” Garcia said at the meeting.

Commissioner Betsy Blecha, a former Jackson County commissioner, pushed back. 

“We don’t have all the answers,” Blecha said. “If we can just get away from worrying about our own pets and think about (the ranchers) this is actually impacting in real time.”

Atencio, the cowboy, said he isn’t sure about hazing. 

“I don’t know yet if it will work or not,” he said. “If it helps, it’s worth a try. These wolves certainly don’t have the fear of humans they need to.”

Colorado voters approved wolf reintroduction by a razor-thin margin in November 2020, with most of the support coming from the urban Front Range. Voters on the Western Slope, where the measure calls for wolves to be reintroduced, were largely opposed. 

Advocates say reintroducing wolves, as has been done in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, will help restore balance to Colorado’s wild ecosystems. Wolves were eradicated from Colorado in the first half of the 20th century. 

An apparent wolf print in the snow at a ranch in North Park, where cowboy Carlos Atencio’s dog Buster was killed by a wolf on Jan. 9. (Courtesy Carlos Atencio)

CPW is in the process of developing guidelines for wolf reintroduction, with plans to present them to the agency’s commissioners in December. 

Atencio said the killings of Buster and the heifer in December have made him even more wary of the reintroduction plan.

“In just a few weeks they’ve killed a heifer and a dog,” he said. “What’s going to happen when they start reintroducing these guys?”

CPW has no plans to relocate or put down the North Park pack, said Duncan, the agency spokesman. 

CPW officials are working on monetary compensation for Buster’s death, but Atencio said it’s hard to put a dollar amount on the life of a companion. 

“It doesn’t make up for the pain,” he said, “but I guess it’s something.”