MEEKER, Colo.—A wildlife expert who examined photos of dead cows obtained by the Humane Society of the United States in an open records request has concluded that wolves are not to blame for the deaths of 41 cattle whose bodies were found near Meeker, Colorado in 2022.  

The examination of the photos comes after Colorado Parks and Wildlife stated in an October press release, “Colorado Parks and Wildlife is investigating a report of dead domestic cow calves on White River National Forest lands near Meeker that show damage consistent with wolf depredation.” In November, the CPW’s Northwest regional manager testified before the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission that some of the cattle he viewed had injuries that appeared to come from wolves The comment is found at 4:53 on the video. Then in a Feb. 7, 2023, press release, CPW stated that their investigation could not determine the cause of death for the cattle but indicated attacks by “large canines.”    

According to the Humane Society of the United States, the state’s assessment led to anti-wolf hysteria among the certain stakeholders on the West Slope. Several stakeholders involved in the wolf restoration process testified that they opposed wolves and would take matters into their own hands, invoking the threat of wolf poaching (See for instance, the CPW Commission’s Gunnison wolf hearing at the 5:03 timestamp). 

In December, the Humane Society of the United States submitted a Colorado Open Records Act request seeking extensive documents related to the 41 dead cattle in Meeker. The HSUS received the CPW’s documents and photos in February. 

The HSUS shared those documents with Carter Niemeyer, a wolf-predation expert. After reviewing the documents, including dozens of photographs, he stated, “I did not see any evidence of predation by wolves,” and, “I don’t really see any evidence of dog bites either.” Instead, he suggested some of the livestock losses in Meeker were a result of brisket disease, a common high-altitude, cattle ailment. In this instance, the cattle were at 9,200 feet and dozens of them appear to have died suddenly but showed no evidence of experiencing wolf attacks. Furthermore, CPW’s remote trail cameras in the area found no evidence of wolves in the area.  

Niemeyer is a former U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services district supervisor and a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conflict specialist, as well as a current member of CPW’s Technical Working Group on wolf restoration.  

“We are grateful that Carter Niemeyer could review CPW’s evidence to conclude it was highly unlikely that wolves were responsible for the deaths of these cattle,” said Wendy Keefover, senior strategist for native carnivore protection for the Humane Society of the United States. “The truth is that less than one percent of cattle inventories die as a result of predation, and Carter’s report exonerates wolves. CPW should show some love for wolves, an iconic species beloved by most Coloradoans. We hope in the future that thorough investigations are conducted before releasing inconclusive evidence blaming wolves or bears and mountain lions for livestock losses. The timing of this misinformation couldn’t have been worse, as the situation in Meeker unnecessarily alarmed many in the livestock industry in the midst of the state’s wolf-planning process.”  

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is wrapping up their public hearing processes on their forthcoming wolf management plan for their restoration in Colorado. The last two public hearings on the state’s wolf plan are scheduled for Feb. 16 via Zoom, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and on Feb. 22 and at CPW’s headquarters, Hunter Education Building at 6060 Broadway, Denver on Feb. 22, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The HSUS is urging Colorado residents to speak up on behalf of the wolves. 

Read Niemeyer’s full report here.

Download photos from our newsroom here. 

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