Kate Brocato: The benefits of wolf reintroduction in Colorado | SteamboatToday.com

Kate Brocato: The benefits of wolf reintroduction in Colorado

When I read “The price of ballot box biology: Forced wolf reintroduction in Colorado,” I was shocked that this article misrepresented an issue that could be critical to reestablishing healthy ecosystems across the natural environment that many of us hold so dear. 

The article claimed that not only would wolf reintroduction be extremely costly, but it would also destroy the hunting industry. However, there are holes in that argument, and Rachel Gabel, the reporter who wrote the article, fails to mention the benefits wolves bring to an ecosystem that is conducive to the recreation that we love.

In 2019 alone, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spent approximately $12.45 million on improving the hatchery system and investing in nongame species conservation and wetlands conservation. Each of these sectors could be improved by the many benefits resulting from wolf reintroduction and perhaps, in turn, reduce spending.

The article goes on to claim that reintroduction would significantly reduce elk and deer populations, thereby lessening opportunities for hunting. However, fewer elk and deer would not necessarily be a bad thing for the hunting industry. Large elk populations typically see higher instances of chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain disease. 

In 2018, 16% of male deer that were tested in Colorado had CWD. However, many researchers believe wolves could be the key to slowing the spread of CWD and other maladies due to their inclination to focus on animals that are easiest to kill rather than those that are healthiest and strongest.

When elk and deer populations are reduced to healthy levels, this in turn significantly improves river and riparian health, increasing the potential for river recreation revenue. The lack of natural predators to the ungulate population in Colorado has led to exponential growth of deer and elk numbers, causing overgrazing particularly in riparian areas where they like to feed on willows along banks.

Without willows and other vegetation, banks erode, adding more sediment to the water, widening streams and increasing temperatures. Each factor combined creates an environment that is detrimental to aquatic health. In Yellowstone, willow heights have grown from an average of 2 feet tall to an average of 6 feet, following wolf reintroduction, and the park has seen a great improvement in riparian health because of it.

These benefits are often subdued by the likes of ranching and hunting interests and even our very own Routt County government. In 2020, wolf reintroduction will be an issue that is more important than ever to make sure we are well informed on. Therefore, we must ensure that we are representing both sides of the issue.

Kate Brocato
Steamboat Springs

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