Wolves are such a political animal. People will go to great lengths to insure they don’t exist near them, let alone thrive. Recently a senior Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) manager was removed from duty for trying to sabotage the state’s plans to reintroduce wolves. CPW Northwest Region Manager JT Romatzke a 23 veteran of the agency was widely regarded as a star game warden. One of these tactics he used included hiring an outside group to post videos on YouTube and Facebook that targeted pro-wolf commissioners. What followed was a 12-week investigation and he was eventually reinstated. So what is all the fuss in Colorado about? Why did he go through all this trouble?
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Proposition 114 Approves Colorado’s Wolf Reintroduction Plan
This all started in November 2020 with the presidential election. On the ballot in Colorado was Proposition 114, requiring CPW to reintroduce a self-sustaining wolf population by 2024 in western Colorado. While wolves have passed through the state near its borders, there have not been wolves born in the wild in Colorado since the 1940s. Colorado is a state with a huge ranching industry. Ranchers hated wolves in the 1940s when the last ones were killed in the state, and not much has changed since. A rancher thinks of wolves and sees the money he will lose if the wolf kills his livestock. The opposition to wolves always stems from a fear of loss.
Where will Reintroduction Occur?
Like it or not, the voters spoke on November 5, and the Proposition passed narrowly by just 20,000 votes, but it still passed. Voters from urban Colorado who strongly support reintroduction helped to solidify the win. Now the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department will manage the effort to establish a sustainable population of animals in western Colorado beginning in 2022 or 2023. There are millions of acres of prime habitat in the Southern Rocky Mountains in an area where wolves once flourished. This same land is capable of supporting several hundred wolves. Even some members of the CPW are not enthusiastic about the plan but acknowledge they will fulfill their mandate as the voters have spoken.
So Now What?
The Defenders of Wildlife believes this measure couldn’t come at a better time since the gray wolves no longer enjoy the protections of the Endangered Species act⸺they were taken off the list in October 2020. Their reintroduction will help to restore some of the natural balance within the state. Advocates have a goal of reaching a population of 250 wolves. The actual logistics of reintroduction will be driven by wildlife experts and biologists while still allowing the public to be involved. Ecology, economics, and social attitudes are the three variables that fuel opposition to the plan. In 1995 the federal government reintroduced wolves into Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Since then, the population has spilled over into Washington, Oregon, and California. It is estimated there are 2000 wolves across the six states. Forested migration routes between these 6 states made migration possible. Wolves would find it more difficult to naturally migrate into Colorado due to the Red Desert that serves as a natural barrier between Wyoming and Colorado. This area is over 9000 square miles with little cover and in the middle of oil and gas-rich lands where wolves are legal to shoot. Wolves may eventually recolonize the state without intervention, and some opponents of Prop 114 would be ok with that, but it could take 20 years or longer. The best chance to establish a wolf population sooner in Colorado is intervention by the state.
Wolves have been successfully reintroduced in many western states to the point where they have naturally migrated into Washington, Oregon, and even California. This has made ranchers nervous. Many would prefer this animal 100% eradicated. This, coupled with general misinformation to the rural public, has led to policies designed to win votes by appealing to fear instead of science. It is quite similar to how some of these same politicians treat the topic of climate change as wildfires roar through the west each summer⸺they appeal to fear and ignorance and ignore the threat in front of them. Governors of Idaho, Montana recently passed laws to reduce the wolf population by 90% or more. Colorado, however, has decided to give the wolf a chance to reestablish its home in the state. This law passed narrowly and was driven by progressive voters from the urban centers who favor more diversity and natural balance in the state’s wild places. The CPW seems reluctant to fulfill the mandate, and not many who live in the prime habitat for wolves are supportive. The animal will likely face poaching, wire traps, and poisoning, as some people will undoubtedly take matters into their own hands. Conservation groups will have to work hard to educate and find ways to work with landowners to achieve peaceful coexistence.
How you can Help
You could consider a donation to the International Wolf Foundation. With your support, they aim to spread the facts about wolves and work to ensure their survival around the globe.Their mission is:
The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands, and the human role in their future.
Another great organization is the Defenders of Wildlife. Their mission is:
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.
Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is the premier U.S.-based national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species and their habitats in North America.
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