“This is a great victory for wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, on the passing of Colorado’s Proposition 114 to reintroduce the wolf to Colorado. This argument would like to know why, specifically why wolves are portrayed as a positive when there are so many negatives that don’t get enough attention. With campaign slogans like “vote YES on Proposition 114 to reintroduce gray wolves in their rightful territories in Colorado” (idausa) proponents of the bill appeal to environmentalists looking to reconnect the historic territory of wolves spanning from Canada to Mexico. But why has more attention not been brought to the plights of ranchers and hunters, who supply the dairy/meat industries and bring revenues to the state respectfully? This argument will look at Proposition 114 and present numbers that are meant to encourage the reader to think twice about what Colorado has welcomed into its state, and most importantly, ask themselves why wolves.
VOTING NUMBERS AND BACKGROUND
On Nov. 3, 2020, Proposition 114 passed with a 50.91% majority (Colorado election results) meaning that by 2023, the gray wolf would be introduced west of the continental divide in Colorado (cpw.state.co.us). Looking at the Image 1 from the Colorado election results website, most of the state is red, or in opposition to the reintroduction of the wolves.
Those counties that did vote yes are as follows (characterized by their major cities): Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Breckenridge, Aspen, Telluride and Durango. Most of these cities are not in the range that will be receiving the wolves and, as seen in Image 1, those counties that will be directly affected are red. But, with lower population density due to the prevalence of ranching and farming, the counties most effected have fewer people and therefore votes even though it is these communities that will be affected.
Wolves are found currently in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, these being the three states with wolves that are closest to Colorado. The profit that these states make from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses “is the primary source of funding for most state wildlife conservation efforts” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). The cost of bringing wolves to Colorado “will be paid primarily from hunting and fishing license fees” (rmfu), one of the areas that the wolves threaten the most. Proposition 114 increases state spending up to “$800,000 per year for the implementation of the wolf reintroduction plan” (Ballotpedia), so the next issue to review is that of finances.
Looking at the numbers from 2020 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the “National Hunting License Data 2020,” total revenue nationally was over $918 million dollars. It is this amount that goes directly into state programs like reintroducing the moose and wolf but also trail management of national parks used as recreation for the public. For some state-by-state comparison (Table 1) between those with wolves and those without, it quickly becomes evident that Colorado is faring much better in terms of hunting license revenue.
Colorado’s profit is over 2 times that of Idaho, and nearly $20 million more than Montana, who, it is interesting to note has the second highest profit from hunting licenses in the nation.
Colorado’s hunting and fishing licensing profits are leaps and bounds higher than any other state. And not having wolves is just one of the reasons this is true, but it is the reason that this argument is going to focus on.
To solidify the financial argument, a comparison of the revenues of these states before the introduction of wolves will be made to post-reintroduction. As a note, wolves have not been reintroduced Montana but rather “dispersed from Canada (in the early 1980s), making their way back into northwest Montana” and “began moving north and east into Montana from Wyoming and Idaho after wolf reintroduction in those states in 1995 and 1996” (www.wolf.org). This introduces an additional point concerning wolves migrating themselves into new states, voiding the need for reintroduction that will be addressed later. Below, the National Hunting License Report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife for the years 1995 and 1998 (Table 2) confirms that Colorado has historically had the highest revenue from hunting and fishing licenses (www.fws.gov).
Looking at the numbers, just two years after the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone, Idaho and Montana already experienced significantly lower percentage change in the revenue from hunting licenses compared to Colorado. The lower increase of revenue means that there are less funds from the licenses to fund the state’s wildlife and parks activities, and less revenue from hunters traveling to the state. Wyoming’s percentage change in revenue from 1995-1998 was significantly high due to “a large hunting removal [that] occurred in 1988-1989, resulting in substantial losses of elk in the Northern herd [of Yellowstone]” (Eberhardt 594).
Hunting elk and deer is a form of herd management, and as the data shows, the revenue states bring in from selling licenses improves their individual state budget.
PREDATOR/PREY BALANCE AND MOOSE
Colorado has the country’s largest population of elk. Proponents of the wolf reintroduction, like Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, have argued that “our ecosystem has suffered, [and it is] knocked out of balance. Without wolves keeping them alert and moving around, elk and deer strip away vital streamside vegetation.” But the hunting license numbers don’t lie; with the overwhelming number of elk, come an overwhelming number of hunters who not only aid in culling the herds of elk across Colorado, but also boost local business during the season. They are not only paying for hunting licenses, but also local guides, transportation, accommodations and amenities for their stay in Colorado.
Elk aren’t the only wild animal that will be affected negatively by the reintroduction of wolves; this apex predator will change the entire ecosystem. Supporters of the wolves returning have pointed to the positive food-chain relationship they introduce, including the “communal feeding at kills by wolves, [including] bears, coyotes, foxes and common ravens” (Ballard 260).
Points such as these illustrate the benefits to the ecosystem, and what Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife Jonathan Proctor said is helping to restore the predator-prey balance that Colorado’s ecosystem has not known in a century (www.sierraclub.org).
Enter the moose; Colorado’s most recent reintroduction success, a program that boasts a 3,000 strong breeding population after reintroduction began in 1978 (www.cpw.state.co.us). The flourishing of the moose is “due to natural dispersal as well as deliberate translocation efforts by Colorado Parks and Wildlife” (coloradoencyclopedia). The effort was well worth the wait though, as tourism companies offer moose sightings and minimal hunting of the animal are permitted even though “until 20 years ago hardly anyone ever saw a moose in Colorado” (www.cpw.state.co.us). Some simple math brings the conclusion from these statements that it took roughly 22 years for the moose population to establish itself in Colorado. And now, 45 years after the initial reintroduction of the moose, Colorado has voted to bring in an apex predator whose presence puts that growing population in danger. After observation of wolf packs throughout North America, research shows “main prey for wolves […] are elk, moose, [and] deer” (www.wolf.org). Further research “in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Alaska [shows that] moose calves are a favorite food source for wolves, particularly in the winter, and moose populations have suffered under wolf-protection laws” (completecolorado). So why wolves? Why will reintroducing the wolves, just as moose populations are hitting statewide goals that have been in progress for almost 50 years, benefit Colorado?
LOSS OF CPW BUDGET
With the forced reintroduction of wolves, Colorado’s profits, and subsequent state wildlife conservation budgets, will plummet to land among those of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Colorado Parks and Wildlife lists the uses of their funds, a list of 15 broad programs (Table 3).
Now, from this list, choose which programs should lose the $800,000 a year that the wolf reintroduction will cost Colorado. And for argument’s sake, assume Colorado’s profit from hunting licenses are in the $35 million range, rather than the pre-wolf profit of $63 million. By introducing wolves, the state of Colorado will have to pick and choose which programs to continue and which to put on the back burner; programs that, run as they are today without wolves, bring in money. Park and Trail Recreation caters to hikers and those interested in climbing Colorado’s 14ers; Geological Surveys-Avalanche assures the multitude of winter tourists who ski Colorado are safe. And these are just two programs that bring in their own revenue for the state. If say, geological surveys are not given the funding they are used to, will as many skiers come if they don’t feel like their safety has been made as high a priority?
So, this argument asks, why wolves?
Is reintroduction really necessary?
Specifically, why is Colorado reintroducing the wolf? Wolves have been documented in Colorado recently, migrating in from Idaho and Wyoming. As previously discussed, Montana has not reintroduced the wolf, and still boasts over 1,000 wolves (fwp.mt.gov). Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks website also includes the statement “FWP is also committed to involving hunters and trappers in the sustainable management of the species” (fwp.mt.gov) suggesting that the current population of naturally introduced wolves is too much for the state. So, why is Colorado speeding up the process of eventual wolf management? In June 2021, Colorado welcomed its first wolf pups in Walden, Colo. The adult wolves, dubbed John and Jane by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, entered Colorado on their own, “Jane arriv[ing] in the state in 2019 and John join[ing] her in 2020” (nbcnews). Their entry to Colorado and “the first pup [sighting] marks a major milestone” (nbcnews), a milestone that should make forced reintroduction of the species unnecessary.
These sightings and subsequent breeding of Colorado’s wolves has not been without damage. Rancher Don Gittleson of Walden lost a “550-pound heifer calf, [found with] wolf tracks surround[ing] the carcass, which had been picked clean to its ribcage” (nbcnews). Jackson County reported in December of 2021 that “a dog carcass had been found and another dog was injured” and then “wolves killed a calf on another Jackson County ranch […] not far from the most recent kill [the cattle dogs]” (denverpost). Already wolves are coming into Colorado and disrupting lives, so why is Colorado attempting to usher in more?
OVERPOPULATION AND COST
As of May 5, 2021, it is legal to shoot wolves on sight in Idaho, due to act SB1211 approved by Gov. Brad Little (Nat. Geo). With this act, “anyone with a wolf hunting tag [can] kill an unlimited number of wolves and [act SB1211] lifts restrictions about how those animals can be killed” (Smithsonian). So, the question is, why? Why did U.S. Fish and Wildlife spend millions of dollars in Idaho, a reported “$7.4 million on […] programs across the country in 2014” (huntingfishing) alone, just to now allow the hunting of “90% of the state’s [Idaho]” (Nat Geo) wolves.
The answer? Overpopulation and the intrinsic costs to hunters and ranchers. Wolves in Idaho number “1,500 at last count” (Nat Geo) and in Wyoming the estimated minimum number at the end of 2020 was 327 individuals (www.wgfd.wyo.gov). Both numbers are distinctly higher than the goals for population that both states have set individually, Idaho’s goal being 15 packs or 150 wolves (Smithsonian). The overpopulation of these animals, stemming from the forced reintroduction, has pushed the states to respond aggressively to combat the issues they are facing.
Act SB1211 is “supported by ranchers who say that wolves threaten their livestock and hunters who say that the wolves have reduced elk populations” (Smithsonian).
Hunters are facing continued challenge, as “elk numbers are considerably down in some areas that have particularly high wolf densities” (gohunt). This is reflected in the revenue states see from hunting licenses (see Table 1), Idaho’s revenue being $30 million compared to Colorado’s $63 million. And with the decline in hunting license revenue, decreased revenue from hunting-related hospitality services threaten the existence of small towns and businesses.
Ranching website “Life on the Range” details the unforeseen financial consequences for ranching in Idaho (Table 4).
These costs add up quickly, and in a “business where profit margins are measured in the 2% range” (idrange) ranchers are fighting a losing battle with financials. Proponents of wolves in Colorado will point to the official bill, citing the line that reads “pay fair compensation for livestock losses caused by grey wolves” (www.leg.colorado.gov), but what exactly does this entail?
Idaho has a similar clause pertaining to wolves that this argument will investigate. The Idaho Office of Species Conservation offered a budget of “$198,728 available to livestock producers” (species.idaho.gov) for the 2021 year, but this compensation comes with its stipulations. The site explicitly details that “probable kills are not eligible for funding” and that “confirmed kills [must be] verified by Wildlife Services” (species.idaho.gov) meaning that ranchers must have unequivocal and verifiable proof to gain compensation; a stipulation that just isn’t attainable.
Carcasses of killed cattle are subject to the elements and other predators, not to mention the wildlife services officers needing to come to the site, meaning that the proof ranchers need so badly isn’t usually available.
So, with all this information, why wolves? Why is the story on wolves predominantly about the environmental benefit and not the emotional, and financial, cost to generations of ranchers? Why is the financial benefit of hunters not more highly recognized? Why is Colorado putting the reintroduction of an apex predator above the well-being of its citizens and visitors? Why wolves?
Fischer, who grew up in California, currently works on her family’s cattle ranch in Toponas, Colo. She is the third generation to work on the ranch. She’s 21 and is going to school in Scotland studying financial economics and management. When she’s not in school, she’s at the ranch working and learning everything she can about cattle and land management. She wrote this piece because she felt that the ranchers in her community were not being heard and with all the work that they do, they deserve to be.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User