What are the stakes of the gray wolf reintroduction effort in Colorado?
By Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun
There are gray wolves to the north and gray wolves to the south.
Colorado voters will decide in November whether stray predators should have a home in the middle of the country.
Proposition 114 calls on voters to order Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reintroduce wolves to western Colorado starting in 2023. The idea is that connecting wolf populations in the northern Rockies with packs in the south will allow the recovery of a species that was nearly hunted to extinction in the early 1900s.
Few subjects raise thorns like wolves in the West. Farmers, ranchers and big game hunters fear that predators will wreak havoc on the economies of herding and hunting. Wolf advocates see Colorado as the critical final step in a 40-year effort to bring Wolves back to the bottom 48.
During these four decades, gray wolf populations have increased in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington State. Mexican wolves thrive in New Mexico and Arizona. In the Great Lakes region, reintroduction efforts have fostered a population of over 6,000 gray wolves.
Reintroduction work has been guided in all of these states by recovery plans under the Endangered Species Act, which has protected gray wolves since 1978. Wildlife managers in the northern Rocky Mountain states, southwest and the Great Lakes region followed federal laws that required the reintroduction of the endangered species. .
Why the wolf question ended up on the Colorado ballot
Colorado Proposition 114 marks the first time voters, not the federal government, would ask state wildlife managers to write a recovery plan for wolves. And this is where the catch lies.
Opponents of the wolf – mostly from the West Slope and backed by agriculture and big game interests – argue that using voters to lead wildlife management is problematic and can bypass science. They call it “ballot biology”.
Colorado Wildlife Commission in 2016 rejected a proposal to reintroduce wolves, citing threats to the state’s big game populations and conflicts with the livestock industry.
Hence the slide towards the ballot box.
the Poll question 2020 asks, “Will there be a change to the revised Colorado Statutes regarding the restoration of gray wolves through their reintroduction on designated Colorado lands west of the Continental Divide, and in connection therewith requiring that Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, after holding statewide hearings and using science, to implement a gray wolf restoration and management plan; prohibit the commission from imposing restrictions on the use of land, water or resources on private landowners to advance the plan; and demand that the board fairly compensate owners for livestock losses caused by gray wolves? “
The battle lines in the wolf reintroduction argument lie along the state’s urban and rural borders. The Stop The Wolf Coalition has collected resolutions from over three dozen largely rural counties oppose reintroduction.
But opponents of the wolf’s reintroduction argue it’s not so much an urban versus rural issue as a political issue, with voters leaning into which wildlife management decisions are best left wildlife commissioners and biologists.
Proponents of wolves cite the Northern Rockies as evidence that wolves restore balance in ecologies and help manage big game populations that can sometimes negatively impact the habitats of other species. Opponents argue that other states are less populated than Colorado, and that the possibility of wolves coming into conflict with humans, livestock, and pets is greater in Colorado than in, say, Wyoming.
How Wolf Recovery Would Work in Colorado
Proposition 114 directs Colorado Parks and Wildlife to put in place a system that reimburses ranchers for livestock killed by wolves. This is a thorny question for opponents of the recovery, who envision wolves having a significant impact on the state’s ranchers.
Montana paid ranchers for cattle taken by wolves and last year paid $ 76,000 to producers who have lost cows, sheep and horses to wolves. That is down from $ 87,000 in 2008. Claims in Montana have declined since the state began allowing hunters to shoot wolves, according to the director of the Montana Livestock Board.
Last year, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that gray wolves should be removed from federal protection and management returned to the states, calling the restoration of wolf populations over several decades “one of the greatest returns for an animal in US conservation history.” Gray wolves have previously been written off from Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
The issue has seen emotional arguments on both sides over the past year. Colorado State University earlier this year examined the debate and found “A diversity of beliefs” about wolves, some backed by science and some not. So the university established a library of scientific studies on wolf biology, wolves and livestock, wolves impacting hunting and economic impacts.
The discovery of a wolf pack in northwest Colorado in January, perhaps the first to roam Colorado since the last wolf was shot in the state in the 1920s, has added fire to the debate on wolf recovery. Opponents of the initiative argue that if wolves are already migrating south into Colorado, there is no reason to spend $ 500,000 to $ 800,000 per year during the implementation phase of the reintroduction.
Supporters point out legal wolf hunting in Wyoming in support of the reintroduction, saying that wolves must roam dangerous territory to reach Colorado and that the chance of building a self-sustaining population of around 80 to 100 wolves is impossible without reintroducing predators.
Who is behind the election campaign
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, an questions committee formed to pass the ballot measure, has raised more than $ 1.7 million in the past two years. He spent most of that transportation and only had about $ 19,000 before the campaign’s home stretch.
A donor, Richard Pritzlaff, has given over $ 254,000 to the issues committee alone. He is the president of the Biophilia Foundation, which operates out of New Mexico and Maryland. The foundation’s website states that the non-profit organization “is based on the belief that only the efforts of private landowners to restore and protect natural resources, especially wildlife habitat, will recover the resources. living lands and degraded watersheds of our country ”.
Pritzlaff’s LinkedIn page indicates that he is a member of the board of directors of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund.
Timothy Ferriss, an entrepreneur and media personality who lives in Texas, donated approximately $ 122,000 to the committee.
The California Tides Center, which supports progressive causes, donated $ 381,000 to the campaign.
Others involved in efforts to get Proposition 114 passed include the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Resources Defense Council, Rocky Mountain Wild, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has donated $ 100,000 to the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, according to campaign fundraising records.
Who is against the question of the ballot
Breeders have been among the loudest opponents of Proposition 114, worried about the impact of the reintroduction of wolves on their results. But campaign finance records show that they are supported by a large base of opponents to the poll question.
Stop The Wolf PAC, which works to prevent the passage of Proposition 114, has raised over $ 70,000 and spent about half of that amount.
Unlike the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, its donors are mostly individuals who have given smaller amounts.
The Center for Organizational Research and Education donated $ 17,000 to the Questions Committee. Based in Washington, DC, its website says the group is “dedicated to uncovering the funding and agendas behind environmental activist groups and exploring the intersection between activists and government agencies.”
The Meeker-based Elk Creek Ranch Owners Association donated $ 15,000 to the committee.
The largest individual donor was R. Stan Marek Jr., who is listed as CEO from Houston-based Marek Brothers Systems, a drywall, plaster and insulation company. He donated $ 5,000.
Arizona Hunters Group Safari Club International donated $ 57,000 at Colorado Wildlife Protection Committee which opposes the reintroduction effort. the The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, meanwhile, donated $ 262,000. to this committee.
The Colorado Sun is a reader-funded news organization dedicated to covering the people, places, and politics that matter in Colorado. Find out more, subscribe to free newsletters and subscribe to coloradosun.com