Wyoming is killing Colorado’s wolves, again, and the state’s keeping it secret

Wyoming is killing Colorado’s wolves, again, and the state’s keeping it secret

At least one wolf from what is likely the first breeding pack Colorado has seen in 80 years wandered into Wyoming in 2023 and was killed.

That’s according to credible reports from ranchers and other stakeholders interviewed by WyoFile.

No Wyoming or Colorado official, however, has confirmed the wolf killing.

Wyoming claims the information is confidential and that not even Colorado wildlife officials have a right to know.

An 11-year-old state law intended to conceal the identity of people who legally kill wolves in Wyoming is keeping Wyoming officials tight lipped. The statue is being interpreted so broadly that Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials say they cannot share anything more specific than the aggregate number of wolves that have been killed in the state’s 53-million-acre “predator zone” — an area that covers roughly 85% of Wyoming. So if a wolf dies well outside of Canis lupus’ normal range in southern Wyoming, even the general region of the killing is considered confidential.

In other words, state officials say merely confirming a wolf killing in a Wyoming county — or even the southern half of the state — would run afoul of the law because that information could somehow identify the person who pulled the trigger.

“We talked to our attorney, and she said basically that we cannot provide [wolf deaths] by location or areas like we used to,” said Dan Thompson, the large carnivore supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “It’s all aggregate.”

Wolf 1084, pictured, was a member of Wyoming’s Snake River Pack before departing south and dispersing all the way to Colorado. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

The statute, and the Wyoming Attorney General’s reinterpretation of it, are hamstringing Colorado’s ability to monitor its historic and closely watched North Park Pack — founded by a known Wyoming migrant wolf, 1084M. The pack, which established a home range in northern Colorado’s Jackson County, has continued to eke out an existence on the eve of the expected broader reintroduction of wolves to the Centennial State, now just months away.

Although Wyoming law has stymied the free flow of information about North Park Pack wolves when they’ve crossed an invisible state border and died, word has gotten out anyway. Last October three black subadult female members of that pack wandered north and were legally killed by hunters, an incident that drew headlines and triggered threats of a lawsuit. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials learned of the suspected losses to the pack from a private landowner, spokesman Travis Duncan told WyoFile in an email.

There are no seasons or other limitations on killing wolves in Wyoming’s predator zone — eradication is openly the goal — but the state does require that successful hunters and trappers submit reports notifying authorities of their kills. Colorado officials have learned that their counterparts in the Equality State are unwilling to share those reports, or any information within them.

“Wyoming Game and Fish said they cannot provide those data to us,” Duncan said in the email.

But the southern Wyoming wolf deaths — of animals likely associated with the North Park Pack — continued this year. Colorado didn’t receive any reports of the deaths this time, Duncan said.

‘Everybody knows about it’

It’s no secret that wolves have been killed recently in Carbon County, not far from the southern border, said Pat O’Toole of the Ladder Ranch. A neighboring Wyoming rancher, he said, killed a wolf “a couple months ago.”

“Everybody knows about it,” O’Toole said. “I’ve seen pictures of it.”

O’Toole’s not thrilled that his Little Snake River-area ranch, which straddles the state line, has once again become the domain of the wolf, a sometimes difficult-to-live-with large carnivore that was eliminated from Colorado’s southern Rockies by the mid-1940s. Wolves that gain a taste for domestic animals often kill until they’re killed themselves, he said, and they make livestock ranching more difficult.

Pat O’Toole stands at the confluence of Battle Creek and the Little Snake River in 2016. (Phil Taylor)

O’Toole was not surprised that likely North Park Pack wolves haven’t lasted long once they’ve crossed the state line. With a step across that line, a wolf goes from a “State Endangered” classification — fully protected from hunting — to a “predator” that can be shot on sight without a license by anyone.

“This valley is full of hunters, and boy, it’d be a pretty smart wolf to make it in this valley,” O’Toole said. “Everybody here drives around with a rifle in their pickup because that’s the culture.”

Wyoming’s predator zone and unregulated hunting near the state line has hampered wolves’ ability to establish in Colorado.

“Essentially, one state is blocking a national success story from happening,” said Matt Barnes, a rangeland scientist who was a member of the advisory group that helped shape Colorado’s wolf management plan. “It is absolute night and day, either side of this invisible line, which is always not good for wildlife.

In 2020, Colorado’s first modern-day wolf pack found a home range off to the west in Moffat County, not far from the Wyoming border. The pack wasn’t confirmed to have produced a litter, like the North Park Pack has, and it also didn’t last long. Three wolves from the pack were reportedly shot in Wyoming, right near the state line. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers investigated that boundary killing incident, WyoFile has confirmed, and the inactive case was recommended for closure. But the federal agency didn’t formally close the investigation, leaving the files unretrievable through the Freedom of Information Act.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists placed GPS collars on two wolves in North Park on Feb. 2, 2023. CPW’s team was doing wolf capture and collaring work in conjunction with elk and moose capture efforts for ongoing research studies in the area. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

And now the North Park Pack has been cut down by legal hunting across the state line. In February, Colorado Parks and Wildlife captured and collared two males: wolves 2101 and 2301. Even if reports continue to come in, any other wolves remaining in the state are unconfirmed.

“CPW is currently only aware of these two wolves in Colorado,” Duncan said in an email. “There was no evidence of reproduction in 2023.”

Reintroduction looms

Biologically, it likely won’t make much difference if the North Park Pack is hunted out of existence. The reason is that Colorado is months away from initiating its plan to reintroduce wolves to the southern Rockies. That plan, set in motion by voters in 2020, is to import 30 to 50 wolves west of the Continental Divide at least 60 miles from Colorado’s borders with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is looking to reintroduce wolves in the west-central part of the state, well south of where members of the North Park Pack have been dwelling in northern Colorado’s Jackson County. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

Wyoming declined to provide wolves to its southern neighbors. Gov. Mark Gordon explained the decision in a statement, saying Wyoming is opposed to Colorado’s wolf reintroduction and “has the scars and lessons learned” from its own wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park nearly three decades ago.

“Wyomingites know all too well the challenges associated with introducing a new large carnivore into an existing ecosystem,” Gordon said. “It does not matter that the wolves may have been a part of the system in generations past; it is still a huge change.”

Montana and Idaho also declined to provide their fellow western state with wolves. But talks are ongoing with Washington and Oregon and northern Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe, reported the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Duncan, at CPW, told WyoFile in the email that he’s “confident” Colorado will gain the cooperation of one or more states or jurisdictions.

“CPW plans to release the first wolves in Colorado this winter,” he said. “We anticipate that we will find a source in time to release wolves prior to the December 31, 2023, deadline.”

Wolf reintroduction was set in motion by Colorado voters in 2020. The populated Front Range tilted the tight vote in favor of reintroduction, but rural western Colorado voters were largely opposed. This sign was located in Walden, Colorado. (Tennessee Watson/WyoFile)

Given the looming reintroduction, former federal wolf biologist Mike Phillips isn’t surprised that Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials haven’t made much of historically significant North Park Pack animals getting shot up in an area outside of their control.

“If I was Colorado, I’d have plenty to do without getting in a pissing match with the state of Wyoming,” said Phillips, who was a member of Colorado’s wolf reintroduction advisory panel.

‘It’s crazy’

Still, Phillips described Wyoming’s practice of keeping the wolf deaths classified as a “sad state of affairs.”

“It speaks to just how irrational people are when thinking about gray wolves,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

Controversy around the wolf deaths in southern Wyoming have also fueled calls to federally protect Canis lupus across the species’ range in the West.

“It’s intolerable that Colorado’s invaluable, endangered wolves can be secretly gunned down upon entering Wyoming,” Center for Biological Diversity staffer Collette Adkins told WyoFile in an emailed statement. “This travesty reinforces the need to return federal protections to wolves in Wyoming and across the northern Rockies.”

Adkins’ employer already threatened to sue the U.S. Forest Service for not safeguarding wolves on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in Wyoming, contending Endangered Species Act violations. But the lawsuit didn’t materialize after the Forest Service informed the advocacy group that there was no evidence of “confirmed gray wolf populations, denning or gathering/rendezvous sites identified” on the national forest.

A lone wolf stands out on the horizon near Bondurant in 2017 in this photograph by Wyoming Game and Fish Department employee Mark Gocke. (Mark Gocke/Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

As Colorado’s wolf population picks up steam in the years ahead, it’s likely that there will be more incidents of dispersed wolves being legally hunted across the northern border in Wyoming. After the Yellowstone and central Idaho reintroduction in 1995 and ‘96, the population of 66 reintroduced wolves grew rapidly, roughly tenfold within six years. Unless the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office reinterprets the statute yet again, exactly how many of Colorado’s newfound wolves meet their end in Wyoming is likely to remain a mystery.

A bill protecting the identity of legal wolf hunters made it through the Wyoming Legislature in 2012 in the aftermath of an Idaho wolf hunter’s identity being posted online, which led to harassment.

There are two applicable sentences in the legislation: “Any information regarding the number or nature of wolves legally taken within the state of Wyoming shall only be released in its aggregate form and no information of a private or confidential nature shall be released without the written consent of the person to whom the information may refer. Information identifying any person legally taking a wolf within this state is solely for the use of the department or appropriate law enforcement offices and is not a public record …”

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik in June 2023. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Until recently, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department did not interpret the statute quite so broadly. Just this spring, for example, Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik told WyoFile that, “We do know of harvest down in southern Wyoming in the predator area in 2022.”

It’s unclear what changed.

Game and Fish Chief Warden Rick King did not specify how releasing wolf mortality data on a regional scale — which the department isn’t doing — would violate the statute. “The Department does not comment on the legal advice we have received,” he said in an email.

Journalist-turned-attorney Bruce Moats in his emptied-out Cheyenne office in January 2023. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Recently retired longtime First Amendment attorney Bruce Moats suspects that the attorney general’s interpretation of the statute runs afoul of the Wyoming Public Records Act and legal precedent, which established that agencies have an obligation to “segregate material, redact exempt material and turn over the rest.”

“I think that applies here,” Moats said. “Why can’t you redact the names?”

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office did not respond to WyoFile’s request for an interview.

The post Wyoming is killing Colorado’s wolves, again, and the state’s keeping it secret appeared first on WyoFile.

Forestry companies granted state funds despite environmental violations

Two forestry companies that were announced as recipients for hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grant money last December were issued environmental violations at their Maine facilities over the past several years.

One of the companies, ND Paper Inc., had a $101,400 state penalty finalized in late August for chemical spills at its Old Town mill in 2020 and 2022. 

One spill led to a limited fish kill in the Penobscot River and continued issues with high-pH at the spill site near the riverbank, according to Maine Department of Environmental Protection officials.

A second company, T&D Wood Energy LLC, operates a wood pellet manufacturing facility in Sanford that was cited for nine violations of DEP regulations between 2019 and 2022, DEP records show. 

Its violations stem from inadequate recordkeeping and exceeding the facility’s emissions limits. The company was most recently issued a violation notice in April 2023. If left unresolved, the violations could lead to monetary penalties.

David Madore, the DEP deputy commissioner, wrote in an email Monday that there is an enforcement action pending against T&D Wood Energy.

Last year, ND Paper was awarded $1 million through a state grant, called the Forestry Recovery Initiative, and T&D Wood Energy was awarded $600,000.

The initiative is administered by the Maine Technology Institute, a nonprofit created by the Maine legislature in 1999 to distribute state-funded grants and loans to spur economic growth and innovation.

T&D Wood Energy did not respond to a request for comment. An ND Paper spokesperson said the company works to monitor compliance at its facilities and reports to state regulatory agencies when issues arise.

When asked by The Maine Monitor if MTI had any concerns that some of the awarded companies, including ND Paper and T&D Wood Energy, had poor environmental compliance histories, the MTI president, Brian Whitney, wrote, “MTI does not necessarily agree with the assumption of the question that any of the companies have a poor compliance record.”

The Forestry Recovery Initiative grant uses funds from the federal pandemic rescue plan. The funds were allocated by Gov. Janet Mills to a state pandemic recovery plan, called the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, in 2021 with legislative approval.

The grant was to help Maine’s forestry companies recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic, and support company projects that bolster long-term economic growth and job creation.

Phase One of the initiative in March 2022 awarded 224 small-scale forestry companies with $6 million in grants. The second phase awarded $14 million to a total of 19 larger forestry companies.

ND Paper and T&D Wood Energy were in the second phase. They plan to use the funds to expand productivity. 

ND Paper intends to enhance the efficiency of a packaging paper machine at its Rumford mill, and T&D Wood Energy wants to acquire two shuttered facilities to expand operations, according to a webpage announcing the grant awards.

Since announcing the awards last December, Whitney wrote in an email that MTI has been finalizing the details.

Whitney said the application process for Phase Two included self-certification from the applicants that they were a business in good standing and confirmation from state agencies that the companies have not been banned from contracting with the state or federal government.

Overall consideration of grant applications, however, did not include separate investigations of the companies’ compliance with environmental laws, and an applicant’s history of environmental compliance was not used as a criterion to score applications, according to MTI.

“The application did not inquire about historical violations of environmental law,” Whitney wrote in an emailed response to the Monitor’s questions.

Whitney stated that such investigations into environmental compliance are not a requirement of the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan.

Whitney wrote that before contracting with the awardees, MTI shared the list of grant recipients with the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, and Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

After the awards were announced, MTI “learned that T&D Wood was not in compliance with DEP,” Whitney wrote. “(T)hat contract and conditional award has not moved forward pending resolution of the outstanding issues with the state.”

ND Paper’s violations

Whitney said officials were unaware of ND Paper’s environmental violations until they saw a news report in July that ND Paper “faced a Maine DEP issue resulting from a spill at one of their other Maine locations” in Old Town.

Whitney said the MTI then received confirmation from DEP and the state DECD that ND Paper “​​had satisfactorily settled the issue.”

The $101,400 penalty for ND Paper was finalized by the Maine Board of Environmental Protection in August.

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It was prompted by separate spill incidents at the company’s Old Town mill. In the first, 30,720 gallons of a sodium hydroxide mix was poured through a drain in September and October 2020 because of an open valve, leading to the increased pH levels and corresponding small-scale fish kill.

DEP staff members reported the floor drain system associated with the fall 2020 spill has been repaired, though Pam Parker with DEP’s Water Quality Bureau said in a meeting this month of the Maine Board of Environmental Protection that extensive repairs were difficult due to the facility’s age.

“… (T)his is an old industrial building with a tremendous amount of legacy piping, but also actively used systems,” Parker said. “So it was hard to be able to wholesale repair the facility …”

A smaller spill occurred at the same building in June 2022, when 1,076 gallons of a sodium hydroxide solution were released over a 30-day period.

ND Paper has repaired the parts of the Old Town facility that the spills originated from, according to the DEP, and installed monitoring equipment to prevent another incident.  

As part of the consent agreement, ND Paper also has to investigate the high-pH material still detected underneath the spill site and create a remediation plan.

The Old Town mill has been closed since March.

Although ND Paper’s Old Town mill has been the most recent target of DEP enforcement, its Rumford mill, which its Forestry Recovery Initiative award is designated for, also has had recent environmental deficiencies, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency database.

Between April 2020 and September 2022, the Rumford mill violated its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit five times, the database shows. The permit is a federal license enforced by DEP that limits the wastewater a facility can legally discharge.

In an email, ND Paper spokesperson Jay Capron wrote that the company carefully monitors and maintains its systems to ensure environmental compliance with regulatory agencies.

“In addition, incidents are reported and elevated internally, and the process includes completing incident investigations, developing corrective actions, and presenting findings,” Capron wrote.

T&D Wood Energy’s track record

DEP has issued four warning letters to T&D Wood Energy’s Sanford facility since it came online in November 2018, as well as two violation notices, according to documents obtained by the Monitor through a Freedom of Access Act request. 

In the first violation notice, issued in February 2020, DEP wrote that the agency received 13 air quality complaints between 2018 and 2020. Agency officials also made several visits to the plant.

The violation notice said because of the facility’s classification under the federal Clean Air Act and its guidance for state agencies to oversee facilities with the greatest potential for significant impact on human health and environment, DEP identified the violations as “High Priority,” and labeled T&D Wood as a “High Priority Violator.”

DEP acknowledged that as a new operation, T&D Wood and Player Design, Inc., which jointly hold an air emissions license for the facility, “have been working through startup of the new manufacturing process to come into compliance, resolve operational problems, and run an efficient, profitable business.”

However, DEP officials wrote, “The Department has given T&D Wood ample time to come into compliance.” That included delaying compliance testing and providing technical assistance from a department compliance inspector, according to the violation notice.

Four months later, in June 2020, T&D Wood received a DEP warning letter that stated, “Based on our findings there is more work to be done to come into full compliance,” citing excess smoke and dust, as well as incomplete reports. 

In a follow-up inspection in August 2020, a DEP official wrote that an inspection at T&D Wood’s facility indicated compliance with the company’s air emissions license, but more test results were required.

A string of warning letters came two years later in July and December 2022, when the facility was again dinged for its emissions and incomplete recordkeeping. A full compliance evaluation in February 2022 identified several more violations. 

The facility received its most recent violation notice in April, followed by the pending enforcement action.

T&D Wood Energy did not return emails or phone calls requesting comment.

Safeguards and concerns

According to Whitney with the Maine Technology Institute, there are several safeguards that keep grant awardees on track with the goals of the Forestry Recovery Initiative, including five years of quarterly reporting requirements beyond a project’s completion. 

He added that if a grantee fails to comply with federal and state statutes, regulations or other grant requirements, MTI “would provide the grantee an opportunity to cure its issues, but MTI does retain the ability to terminate the agreement and seek reimbursement of the grant funds if necessary.”

Whitney said most of the funds have yet to be distributed.

In addition to ND Paper and T&D Wood’s outlined violations, five other companies awarded Forestry Recovery Initiative grants had instances of non-compliance with DEP regulations, according to the EPA database.

Sappi North America, Inc. was awarded $1 million for improvements in pulp and paper mill productivity at its facility in Skowhegan.  

At that same facility, Sappi has five violations reported under its wastewater permit between April 2020 and September 2022, according to the EPA database.

Sappi received two violation notices from DEP and one warning letter for operations at its Skowhegan plant during that two-year span.

The EPA database shows two other violations from 2020 against Sappi on its water permit for its operations at a Westbrook mill. EPA also lists one more violation on Sappi’s air emissions license. Those notices came before the initiative awards were announced last December.

There were three warning letters issued under the air emissions license between January 2020 and July 2022, the EPA database shows.

Sappi North America did not respond to requests for comment on those violations and its plans for the grant award.

Hancock Lumber Company, Inc. was also awarded $1 million through the initiative for a project labeled “Bethel Value Added.”

At its Ryefield mill, Hancock Lumber has received several violation notices for a permit under the Safe Drinking Water Act, another federal license but for community water systems, though the company’s water system is listed as private and only serves 45 people.

Almost all of those violations are listed as “resolved” on the EPA database.

After initially responding to a reporter’s email, Hancock did not respond to email inquiries on the violations and the company’s designated project for grant funding.

Robbins Lumber East Baldwin, LLC was awarded $1 million to purchase a sawmill edger that will replace a 40-year-old piece of equipment at its East Baldwin mill, according to Robbins spokesperson Catherine Robbins-Halsted.

Robbins-Halstead wrote in an email that the project will improve equipment efficiency and reduce energy consumption while making a demanding job easier for operators.

In response to a question about water violations reported at the company’s Searsmont facility, Robbins-Halsted said one group of violations was due to existing background groundwater concentrations. 

Another violation stemmed from an effluent discharge that DEP had authorized, according to Robbins-Halsted.

“In both instances Robbins was communicating with DEP and working with DEP to comply with standards in a mutually agreed upon path. The alleged violations represent a gap between State DEP and Federal EPA data recordkeeping,” Robbins-Halstead wrote.

DAAQUAM Lumber Maine, Inc., was awarded $500,000 by the Forestry Recovery Initiative for a project to replace a kiln at its Aroostook County facility.

It has one violation for its air permit in August 2021 and two warning letters from DEP. 

DAAQUAM did not return phone call and email inquiries on the violation, nor its plans for the Forestry Recovery Initiative awards.

ReEnergy Biomass Maine, LLC is the fifth company with listed environmental infractions before it was awarded initiative funding.

The company received $523,900 for projects at its Livermore Falls and Stratton facilities to harness a charcoal-like substance called biochar for potential use as a soil supplement, according to its spokesperson, Sarah Boggess.

In October 2022, the company had an NPDES permit violation at its Livermore Falls biomass-to-energy facility, which burns wooden material and converts it to electricity, when the facility exceeded its monthly average chromium limit by 18%.

According to Boggess, the company determined that the excess was due to washing activities while the facility was offline for the fall.

“To prevent a recurrence, the Livermore Falls team will isolate the wash water and dispose of it before it reaches the cooling tower so it is not included in the facility’s discharged water,” Boggess wrote in an email. “There was no financial penalty assessed.”

In response to those violations, Whitney said because the ECHO database relies on self-reported and time-limited violations, some may be relatively minor and do not result in enforcement actions if resolved with the regulator. 

He said MTI is not in a position to pre-empt the responsible agency in enforcement proceedings or decisions.

Asked if any companies aside from ND Paper and T&D Wood energy that were awarded forestry initiative funds had outstanding environmental violations, DEP’s Madore directed a reporter to the EPA ECHO database.

Sean Mahoney, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Maine Advocacy Center, an environmental advocacy group, wrote in an email that if the state is going to provide public funds to help the private sector, there should be certain assurances.

“(T)hose companies should have their houses in order and be in compliance with all state and federal laws,” Mahoney wrote. “The situation with T&D Wood Energy appears particularly noteworthy given (its) lengthy history of noncompliance.”

The story Forestry companies granted state funds despite environmental violations appeared first on The Maine Monitor.

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