Feb 19, 2020
Colorado needs Wolves – not merely to restore a natural balance or the wildness that we all seek – though wolves will do that if they are present for long enough, in sufficient numbers and with wide enough distribution – but also to ensure that we pass on a Colorado intact, with a complete suite of native wildlife, to enrich future generations.
This episode explores the issue of wolf reintroduction in Colorado, including Initiative 107, which will facilitate reintroduction of gray wolves to the state. Cathy Herzog, Wildlife Chair for the Pikes Peak Group of Sierra Club interviews Delia Malone, an ecologist who lives and works on Colorado’s west slope. She’s conducted ecological and biological surveys for streams and wetlands, and rare plants, animals and communities for the purpose of informing conservation. Delia is Wildlife Chair for the Colorado Chapter of the Sierra Club and a member of the Science Advisory Team for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which has a campaign to restore Gray Wolves to Colorado.
Find additional information on this issue at the end of these show notes.
This episode is courtesy of Pikes Peak Group of the Sierra Club. The Pikes Peak Group is part of the Colorado Chapter of the Sierra Club and represents members in the greater Pikes Peak region as well as communities to the east and west of the region. The purpose of the Sierra Club is to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.
We invite you to join in our events, hikes, and discussions. For more information about the Group’s activities and events, follow Pikes Peak Group of the Sierra Club on Facebook (links below).
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Colorado Needs Wolves. Elk Need Wolves – the magnificent bull elk, so coveted by hunters, is a result of eons of selective predation by wolves;
Beaver Need Wolves, to prevent ungulates from devouring the willows that they need for food and to build their dams, that store the water, that helps maintain stream flows in the arid west;
We Need Wolves to restore the natural balance that is our life support system – a natural balance that begins with a balance between predator and prey.
SO WHY ARE THERE NO WOLVES IN COLORADO’S WILDLANDS?
Renee Askins explains: “In the span of less than fifty years man had systematically, consciously, intentionally killed every wolf in the West . . . Hundreds of thousands of wolves were killed—some in the name of protecting livestock, some for their pelts, some because we believed it was our inalienable right, and some just out of cold, hard vengeance and cruelty, a cruelty we so often attribute to the wolf”.
Science documents what the land is telling us: Wolves keep ecosystems healthier by balancing species populations with ecological carrying capacity.
Wolves keep elk herds healthy by removing vulnerable, sick or old animals (Lukens 2006) and they keep landscapes healthy by keeping elk within the carrying capacity of their environment.
Although Colorado has more elk by far than any western state all is not well: Elk exceed CPW’s population objectives – i.e. ecological carrying capacity - in over half of Colorado’s elk management units; and Chronic Wasting Disease occurs in at least 16 of Colorado’s 43 elk herds and 31 of 54 deer herds
As the preeminent wolf biologist, Dr. David Mech, stated “…the preponderance of scientific evidence supports the view that wolves generally kill the old, the young, the sick and the weak…” and further states: “Based upon everything I’ve seen over the course of my career, I generally stand behind the assertion that wolves make prey populations healthier...The evidence to support it is overwhelming.”
IV. SO WHY DOES WOLF RESTORATION STRUGGLE? WHY DO WOLVES REMAIN RESTRICTED TO 15% OF THEIR HISTORIC HABITAT DESPITE AN ABUNDANCE OF SUITABLE HABITAT, MUCH OF IT IN WESTERN COLORADO?
The doomsday scenarios predicted when wolves were restored to the northern rocky mountain states have not come to pass. There is no indication that they would do so in Colorado either.
Evidence indicates that:
…wolves have not decimated prey populations.
…wolves have not reduced hunter success.
… wolves haven’t negatively impacted the ranching industry
…wolves pose an infinitesimal threat to humans
Facts are that with 1,900 gray wolves in the Northern Rockies in 2015 and with the total number of 1,980,600 cattle in the same region as gray wolves, confirmed losses of to wolves in 2015 was 148= 0.007%
Facts are that elk populations and hunter success in the Northern Rockies is either stable or increasing since wolf restoration.
Fact are that in Yellowstone National Park from 1995-2018 with 101,070,722 visitors, none were injured by a wolf and among 2.7 million tent campers in Yellowstone from 1995 to 2018, no camper was injured by a wolf.
COLORADO’S WEST SLOPE IS IDEALLY SUITED TO WOLVES – prey base and public lands are key determinants of suitable wolf habitat – Colorado’s west slope has an abundance of both.
While it’s true that Colorado’s population is growing, it’s also true that, according to the State Demographer, 84% of Colorado’s population will settle on the Front Range, 11% on the western tier counties and the remaining 5% divided between the Central Mountains, the Eastern Plains and the San Luis Valley (https://demography.dola.colorado.gov/demography/infographics/#a).
A VIBRANT WOLF POPULATION WOULD BE AN ASSET TO COLORADO BUT WOLVES CANNOT GET TO COLORADO ON THEIR OWN.
The journey is simply too dangerous, with too many mortality hazards between the Northern Rockies and Colorado for a sufficient number of wolves to wander to Colorado, find one another, and survive long enough to give birth to the countless litter of pups needed to give rise to a viable, ecologically effective wolf population
VIII. RESTORATION IS IMPERATIVE IF COLORADO IS TO HAVE ANY CHANCE OF AN ECOLOGICALLY EFFECTIVE POPULATION OF GRAY WOLVES,
In 25 years since wolf restoration to Yellowstone National Park only about 10 wolves have made it to Colorado – 3 were killed and 1 was never again seen. And the six that have recently been seen in Colorado near the Wyoming border are closely related. These six do not carry sufficient genetic diversity to establish a healthy, viable population and six is nowhere near the number Colorado needs for an ecologically effective population.
Coloradans stand ready to achieve a breakthrough, decades in the making — reintroducing the gray wolf and in so doing, beginning the journey to restoring a natural balance to the Wildlands of Colorado’s West Slope.
Initiative 107 is a grassroots path to restoration – a pathway that gives all Coloradans a voice as to the management of their public lands.
If you’re a Colorado voter, please vote for initiative 107 on the 2020 Colorado ballot. Vote to restore a natural balance for now and future generations of Coloradans.