Our view: Wolf reintroduction is complex issue | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Wolf reintroduction is complex issue

Wolf reintroduction is a topic that elicits strong emotions on both sides of the issue, and this November, voters will have a chance to weigh in at the ballot box.

Initiative 107, if approved, would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to introduce about 10 gray wolves a year to the state starting in 2023 with an implementation cost of about $500,000 a year. And once the reintroduction begins, Parks and Wildlife estimates the program would cost $6 million over the first eight years.

At this point in the election cycle, we’re not ready to take an official position for or against the reintroduction of the wolf, but we encourage people to begin doing their homework now, so their vote this fall is one based on science rather than emotion.

It’s easy to romanticize the return of the wolf — think Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” or the direwolves from “Game of Thrones.” And in a natural ecosystem where humans are not present, there’s a magic to the idea of wolves once again roaming through Northwest Colorado, but when you add ranching, tourism and outdoor recreation to the mix, it’s a different, complex story.

In searching for answers, we believe it’s imperative people look to the right sources and seek science-based information about the potential positive and negative impacts that would come with wolf reintroduction. In our opinion, Parks and Wildlife is one of the agencies we should be looking to for that information. Parks and Wildlife is charged with balancing the conservation of the state’s wildlife and habitat with the recreational needs, and the agency is a national leader when it comes to cutting-edge research and innovative wildlife conservation practices.

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Last week, Parks and Wildlife officers confirmed the existence of a wolf pack living in Moffat County. They discovered an animal carcass surrounded by large, wolf-like tracks and also heard distinct wolf howls in the area. The officers used binoculars to observe six wolves about two miles from where the carcass was located.

At a glance

At issue: Colorado voters will have the opportunity to vote on the reintroduction of the wolf in November.

Our view: The issue is one that should be decided by science and not emotion, so we encourage readers to get educated.

Editorial Board

  • Logan Molen, publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Jason Gilligan, community representative
  • Don Moss, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.

The wolves are being heralded as the first pack to call Colorado home since the 1930s, and another wolf has been confirmed living in Jackson County near Walden. These sightings lead us to believe more wolves will naturally migrate to the area over time, which could make a forced reintroduction unnecessary and premature.

One serious concern we do have with the November ballot initiative is that it gives voters on the Front Range the power to decide a narrowly focused, regional issue that will impact those of us living on the Western Slope.

A survey conducted by Colorado State University researchers indicated strong support for the measure among the state’s urban residents with 84.9% of those polled saying they’d vote in favor of wolf reintroduction in November. That support is offset by more than 25 counties across the state, many located in more rural areas, which have passed resolutions opposing wolf reintroduction.

And we also are concerned at some of the information circulating in favor and against wolf introduction. For example, the fact that wolf reintroduction was successful in Yellowstone doesn’t mean it will be same on the Western Slope. The population of Colorado is equal to the populations of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming combined, and Yellowstone is a national park where wildlife management practices are very different than they would be if wolves are reintroduced on state-managed lands in more populated areas.

There is also a false notion that Colorado has an overpopulation of elk, and the introduction of another top level predator would serve to reduce herd sizes. According to Parks and Wildlife officials, the herd in Northwest Colorado is healthy at about 20,000, but statewide, there’s a dramatic decline in both elk and mule deer populations. And no one is talking about the wolves’ impact on other species, like grouse and other nonbig game species.

So as November approaches, we again urge people to get educated. Steamboat Pilot & Today will do its part to report on the subject in the months to come, offering readers unbiased, factual articles that try to cover all aspects of an issue that’s controversial and complicated. So stay tuned.

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