Opinion: Restore the missing howl
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Colorado needs wolves. There, I’ve said it. You can agree or disagree, but you’ll get a chance to register your opinion officially this November. Twixt now and the day that your mail-in ballot arrives, you’ve got time to become an informed voter.
• Fact: Wolves are neither good nor evil, neither panacea nor pandemonium. Humans ascribe that baggage to them; they have not earned any black or white label.
• Fact: Wolves are critical to the long-term health of the systems that they evolved in and with. Their eradication was an ecological tragedy. Why are wolves so important? Because, unlike any other carnivore, wolves hunt by testing their prey, which keeps elk and deer from being too sedentary and browsing plants beyond repair.
• Fact: Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and Idaho 25 years ago, and the elk and deer populations in the Northern Rockies — Wyoming, Idaho and Montana — are larger today than before wolves were restored.
• Fact: Regarding wolves, there is no urban-rural divide, despite claims by anti-wolf organizations, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Safari Club International and the Colorado Farm Bureau. Those who say otherwise are, in fact, trying to incite such a divide. Twenty-six years of polling shows that most Coloradoans support returning wolves to western Colorado. That support includes a majority of Western Slope residents, of hunters, and those who derive their income from ranching and farming, according to a 2019 CSU poll.
• Fact: Anti-wolf organizations aim to spend millions to fight wolf restoration. Their talking heads opine throughout Colorado about the expected costs of reintroduction — costs that these groups could instead help mitigate by coming into the 21st century, collaborating with scientists to make Colorado a showcase for modern wolf/livestock co-existence projects.
• Fact: The wolf restoration question on November’s ballot, when affirmed by voters, will set in motion planning based in the best available science, combined with public input, leading to the reintroduction of wolves to Colorado. This result is in line with public opinion, as well as the consensus amongst the world’s leading wolf biologists and ecologists, including David L. Mech, Ph.D., who had this to say about restoring wolves to Colorado: “Restoration [of wolves to Colorado] could connect the entire North American wolf population from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan through Canada and Alaska, down the Rocky Mountains and into Mexico. It would be difficult to overestimate the biological and conservation value of this achievement.”
• Fact: Because wolves keep elk and deer moving around, their presence may help reduce the prevalence of chronic wasting disease (CWD). Research shows that one of the most significant contributors to the spread of CWD is prolonged proximity of elk to other elk. All Coloradans who value deer and elk should welcome that help. While predation may not eliminate CWD from an ungulate population, predators that select for disease-compromised cervids should prove useful to that end.
• Fact: Although wolves do occasionally kill cows and sheep, 25 years of data from the Northern Rockies make clear that 99.95% of livestock whose range overlaps with that of wolves are not killed by wolves. Nonetheless, the wolf reintroduction ballot initiative includes fair compensation to ranchers for the small number of livestock that will be lost to wolves each year.
• Fact: Colorado has the largest elk population and one of the largest deer populations in North America. Surely there are enough elk to sustain both wolves and human hunters.
• Fact: This November, most informed voters will vote to restore the balance of nature to western Colorado by restoring wolves.
Rob Edward is president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund. He has worked toward the return of wolves to Colorado for over 25 years.
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