KREMMLING, Colo. − Bloodshot eyes stared down at a "Don't tread on beef" decal on the table as Conway Farrell breathed in the outbuilding's wood smoke fire and the question.

He steadied himself as if to exhale a contemplative answer.

His wife, Nellie, stared at her husband, waiting for his answer with a look of concern. Half centered on him saying too much. The other half relief the weight of talking about the recent wolf killings on their ranches, including one this Sunday morning, would bring a moment of peace.

Conway Farrell was a reluctant public player in the wolf depredation game until Sunday's (April 28) fifth cattle loss in 11 days to wolves. So for the first time since the depredations on his ranch began, he said it was time to play his hand, going public in a sit-down interview with the Coloradoan.

When Conway Farrell finally spoke, his raw emotions poured out.

"Yeah, I'm pissed,'' he said. "Everybody up here is getting edgy and at our wit's end. All of the headaches and stress you normally have, especially during calving season, and then to throw this all on top of it? It feels like you’re getting slapped in the face every freakin’ minute.''

'I don't believe in stress, but I'm starting to'

Six total wolf depredations from released wolves since April 2 have Grand County ranchers on edge.

A disgust with the government is nothing new in flag-flying Middle Park, where residents are surrounded by beautiful raw mountain peaks, sagebrush hillsides and verdant river bottoms

Conway Farrell gave credit to local Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers for trying to help the ranchers fend off the wolves from their herds but added interactions with them in the small ranching town of Kremmling, population 1,500, where cattle course their way through every fiber of this tightknit community, has grown awkward.

"We can't even go to school to pick up our kids without running into one of these guys,'' Farrell said. "We see them in the grocery store and everybody is sitting there trying to act fake and like we are all happy, yet what’s going on behind the scenes every day is as disturbing as heck.''

In the same breath, he discredited the wildlife officers' higher-ups, most notably Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Jeff Davis. Farrell said he spoke to Davis on numerous occasions about removing the two released wolves killing their cattle he and other ranchers have identified by their collar number.

And Gov. Jared Polis, whose political influence, he said, has "created a disgustingly huge disconnect'' between wildlife officials and ranchers.

The Coloradoan reached out to Polis' office and Colorado Parks and Wildlife for comments on this story Monday morning.

At 11:14 a.m. Tuesday, after the Coloradoan published the story, Colorado Parks and Wildlife sent a response that read in part, "CPW will again review this specific situation with USFWS to ensure actions are in compliance with all state and federal laws and regulations and the Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan.''

The governor's office had not responded by late Tuesday night.

"I don't believe in stress, but I'm starting to,'' said Farrell, hardened by decades trying to carve out a living against the harsh elements of ranching at 7,400 feet. "You just get up and go to work. Yeah, you got problems but you fix them every day. But they have us to where we can’t fix the problem we have. We feel it’s completely based on decisions getting shoved down the local wildlife officers' throats from the governor’s office.''

He said since the 10 wolves were released near his ranches in late December, he has become less of a rancher and father.

He pointed out there aren't enough hours in the day and night to manage his family's 3,000 head of cattle spread over several owned and leased ranches during spring calving season, spending nights taking turns watching over his most vulnerable herds and working with wildlife officials investigating his wolf depredations.

"I have a 3- and 5-year-old that I haven't been able to spend hardly any time with the last two weeks unless they can come ride around with me to feed cattle,'' he said. "I have 600 cows down here that I'm responsible for and I'm not able to provide the animal husbandry to these cattle that they need. I can't do my job because I’m up there looking at wolf kills and trying to chase them off.''

He said because of the added wolf workload, in recent weeks he lost cattle to other demises indirectly related to wolves.

"By me not being able to be down here, I lost a calf that cost my family $1,800,'' he said. "Two days later I take the 2 a.m. to daylight shift watching our herd and I have a $3,000 cow die. I'm not getting compensated for that. These are all the impacts people don't see.''

Farrell said his compensation claims on the livestock lost will remain open until the depredations end at which time he will be paid fair market value.

On Sunday, Conway Farrell and his daughter, Hillie, rode on a hay rack pulled by a tractor, pushing and kicking slices of hay bales off the trailer to eager heifers and their calves. Conway pointed to an area where the first of his five cattle were killed by wolves.

His concern this day drifted from the dead calf he lost that morning to his next wolf issue.

The 300 head of cows he was feeding along the Colorado River will soon be hauled up the mountain nearly 15 miles to their calving ground.

"Another layer of stress is moving those cattle right to where we have been having all the wolf issues,'' he said. "Once they get up there, we know we will have even more troubles. But we can't change our whole operation because there’s wolves on the landscape. We have to try to deter them. It’s just going to be a wreck up there in the next month but we have to get these cattle off these meadows so we can get irrigation going and start raising hay for next year.''  

He said he and other ranchers have used nonlethal tools given out by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, including fox lights, cracker shells and CritterGitter, a motion-activated device that sounds an alarm when activated.

In addition, he and other family members and ranch hands provide rotating night watches. He said the state wildlife agency had an employee with his herd where the depredations took place watching for several nights. But the state agency discontinued the service, saying it could no longer spend the resources.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Agriculture said it is dedicating up to $20,000 to the Middle Park Stockgrowers Association toward nonlethal deterrents that include nighttime patrols and herd protection, such as hiring range riders.

The state wildlife agency also offered turbo fladry, an electric fence with red-orange flags that move in the wind, to deter wolves. Farrell said on some of the ranches he leases, the owners won't allow him to put up turbo fladry due to liability concerns.

"Once Gov. Polis opened that gate to release the first wolf, to me that means they are the state's responsibility,'' he said. "But if you put their fladry up, in the agreement it says the state is not liable for anything and it is your responsibility. How fair is that?''

He said nonlethal has worked to keep the wolves away for a couple of days but doesn't solve the problem.

"It just pushes them to the next ranch and makes it their problem until they return again,'' he said.

Cattle graze as snow starts to fall in Grand County, Colo., on Sunday, April 28, 2024. Grand County has become ground zero for wolf depredations on livestock.

Ranchers say they have identified the two depredating wolves they want the state to lethally remove

Each of Colorado's 10 (now nine after one died) released wolves and the two remaining wolves from the North Park pack were fitted with GPS tracking collars.

The North Park pack was formed when naturally migrating wolves from Wyoming paired up and gave birth to Colorado's first pups in 80 years in the spring of 2021.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a policy not to release the movements or depredations of wolves as identified by an individual's collar number. It also has refused to release the collar number of the deceased wolf in Larimer County earlier this month.

But Conway Farrell and other ranchers say the state wildlife agency should release the collar numbers to determine the depredation level of individual wolves. He said that would be useful information to determine if a wolf or wolves should be lethally removed based upon the number of predations in a given time period, the criteria other states use.

Colorado's wolf plan does not contain a definition for chronic depredation, as states, such as Oregon and Washington, do.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife refused to provide the ranchers with the information, so Conway Farrell said he and other ranchers identified by collar number the two released wolves involved in all of April's livestock depredations. He said they used game camera videos and images, tracks, numerous sightings over several months and locations of where wolves were released to determine the depredating wolves.

He said they have "high confidence'' that 2309, an adult gray-colored male from Oregon's Weneha pack, and 2312, a yearling gray-colored female without a pack name in Oregon, are the two wolves responsible for the depredations.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife previously said yearling wolves brought into the state are now approximately 2 years old and are mature enough to breed.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's wolf depredation records show members of the Weneha pack had confirmed depredations of a cow Oct. 25, 2023, and a calf Sept. 18, 2023, just months before being captured and released in Colorado.

Farrell said capturing and releasing known depredating wolves went against Colorado's recovery plan, which reads "No wolf should be translocated that has a known history of chronic depredation, and sourcing from geographic areas with chronic depredation events should not occur."

Colorado Parks and Wildlife insists it has followed the recovery plan.

The Middle Park Stockgrowers Association said that indicates Colorado Parks and Wildlife knew of the recent depredation history of the pack and still captured and released them in Colorado, contrary to the state's wolf plan. That is why they requested the state lethally remove the two wolves.

Colorado has refused the request.

Davis, in a response letter to the stockgrowers association's request to remove the two wolves, wrote, "Removing the male breeder at this point would be irresponsible management and potentially cause the den to fail, possibly resulting in the death of the presumed pups.''

Conway Farrell added he and other ranchers have seen the two wolves consistently together for months, a likely indication the pair has bonded and have a den. He also said ranchers have identified another released wolf, a female, with the pair.

Davis wrote in the response letter the wolf that could be responsible for the depredations is the male of a pair believed to be denning. He wrote the female’s collar has had connectivity issues and along with points showing a "very localized position indicates she is likely in a den.''

However, he did not identify the wolves' collar number.

Conway Farrell said he believes the den is in the vicinity of where the April wolf depredations have taken place near his ranches.

"We need both removed, but the male definitely needs to be removed because he's the one causing at least 90% of the damage in the last few weeks,'' he said. "In any other state, these wolves would be removed due to their depredations.''

He said at sunrise on Sunday, he saw 2309 sneaking up on his cattle in the area where four were previously killed. The cattle ran away. He then followed the wolf's tracks for several miles and they led to where his father reported the dead calf that morning.

Conway Farrell has a photo that shows the wolf with a legbone in its mouth. Farrell believes the wolf was taking the bone back to the den site.

He said on two previous depredations of his cattle, two sets of wolf tracks were verified by state wildlife staff. He said at Sunday's kill only the male's tracks, which are much larger than the female's, were found.

"If the other wolves aren't making kills or hurting other things, we aren’t the kind of people who just want to kill wolves,'' Farrell said. "If we would have wanted to kill those wolves, we would have done it the first 10 to 15 times we saw them this winter.''

Source: Fort Collins Coloradoan