Opinion: Colorado needs no new wolves
This fall, Colorado voters will have a choice to vote against the forced introduction of more wolves. The proponents of this effort argue that releasing more wolves will result in a utopian style return to some natural balance. They point to Montana and Wyoming and the wolf release in Yellowstone National Park as evidence of how the balance would evolve in Colorado. The error is egregiously obvious: Colorado is not Wyoming and Montana.
Montana and Wyoming have 244,982 square miles with a population density of 6.6 people per square mile. Colorado is 104,185 square miles with a population density of 55, which is expected to grow to 67 by 2040. Yellowstone is 3,468 square miles. Rocky Mountain National Park is 415.
All these people encroach into the ecosystems where wildlife thrive, and it is killing the wildlife. From 1999 to 2015, elk populations have shrunk more than 50%. Hikers, mountain bikers and four-wheel drive vehicles have dense webs of trails through wildlife habitat.
Trail usage near Vail has doubled since 2009. The calf survival rate in the Vail Valley is so low that experts say that the population will never recover. It’s the same story for mule deer. Their populations have been declining for many years; today, they are 25% below the objective. Habitat loss, vehicle collisions and human recreation all take a toll.
To a lesser degree, bears, mountain lions and wolves also take their toll. Bears prey on elk calves and deer fawns. Historically, bears could be taken during a spring hunt and with the aid of bait and dogs. In 1992, a citizen-passed initiative banned these hunting methods. The bear population doubled.
And so too with mountain lions. Before 1965, there was a bounty on lions. Since then, their numbers have climbed. Lions’ main food source is deer and elk. When there is less food, bears and lions come to town. As a result, human conflicts with bears and lions are on the rise.
As for wolves in Colorado, observant outdoor enthusiasts have witnessed wolf encounters growing steadily: the wolf killed on I-70 in 2004, the pictures of wolf 1084-M in North Park, the wolf with a radio collar found dead in 2009, the wolf shot in 2015 near Kremmling, the two wolves roaming Green Mountain Reservoir earlier this year, and the pack of six wolves north of Craig. We already have wolves.
Wolf release proponents don’t talk about wolves’ surplus killing. Bears and mountain lions kill to eat. A mountain lion may take a week to consume an elk carcass. Not so with wolf packs. In 2016, a pack near Bondurant, Wyoming, killed 16 calves and two cow elk in a single night. That causes wild swings in populations.
The studies on Isle Royale in Lake Superior demonstrated that wolves killed off the moose until the wolves starved themselves to death. That is not balance. Wolves will accelerate the declines in our struggling herds, which will result in even more human conflict with bears and mountain lions.
In Colorado, human population growth has irretrievably broken the natural balance, and wolves disrupt what little remains. If it happens naturally, so be it. But why would environmentally conscious people intentionally inject more wolves? We should be collaborating on ways to conserve what we have left, rather than fighting over ways to desecrate it.
Alan Keeffe, a Steamboat Springs resident, has a long history of engagement in Colorado’s environmental causes, having assisted Colorado Ducks Unlimited initiate Colorado’s duck stamp program, Colorado Trout Unlimited’s successful effort to prevent Two Forks Dam and landowners to protect threatened species with conservation easements.
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