Wolves knocking on Colorado boundaries
Colorado producers and sportsman may be stomping on the brake pedal on wolf reintroduction, but state officials say the reality is, Colorado already has wolves.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has restored gray wolves into Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona, and it is believed wolves have begun to migrate into Colorado from both the north and south.
Wolves obviously don’t adhere to state boundaries, or government boundaries for that matter, and those released in the parks have territories as large as 50 square miles, but they may even extend up to 1,000 square miles in areas where prey is scarce, according to USFWS. Wolves often cover large areas to hunt, traveling as far as 30 miles a day. Although they trot along at 5 mph, wolves can attain speeds as high as 40 mph.
To prepare for any wolf migrations into Colorado, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in 2005, set up a multi-disciplinary work group that drafted a Wolf Management Plan. The Mexican wolf is a distinct subspecies of wolf. It is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Therefore, it is under the management authority of the USFWS. Which means the self-imposed wolf management plan of shoot, shovel and shut up is not a good idea, according to game officials.
According to some history books, prior to the eradication of wolves, the animals turned to livestock for food, only after hunters over-killed the natural larger food sources, such as elk. Advocates for reintroducing wolves in the state, believe they are needed, in part to keep populations of elk in check. The suggestions have been met with considerable opposition from some ranchers.
But avid hunters argue that the game and fish manage big game populations through hunting, and the over $3 billion hunting industry the state boasts.
“I guess they don’t consider hunting itself acting as a predator, instead of wolves. They haven’t considered that thousands of hunters get in the woods every year to bag an elk or deer, and they haven’t considered that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife monitor herd populations closely and prescribe the amount of available tags accordingly,” a Fence Post reader shared.
“As a wilderness outfitter in the Frank Church — River of No Return Wilderness, I saw first-hand the devastation that follows these Apex predators,” Tony Krekeler said. “The story about culling the sick out of the ungulate herds is a Disney fairy tale.
Killing sprees are common, especially in the winter months. Within two years, most wilderness outfitters sold out — there was nothing to hunt. Survival rates of elk calves making it to a yearling dropped to 6 to 8 percent. Even the federal biologists admit that that percentage needs to be in the mid 20 percent range for herds to remain static.”
Wolf management needs to be a priority, whether the animals migrate or are reintroduced, according to Colorado ag producers, who contribute more than 40 billion to the state’s economy annually.
In a recent meeting in Steamboat Springs, Colo., Sierra Club Wildlife Chair Delia Malone used the “trophic cascade” theory in her push for reintroduction. In a nut shell — the wolf-driven trophic cascade applies the domino effect, that the absence of the animal created an unhealthy change in the landscape, that included events such as elk overgrazing on willows and other low-land plants, and the reintroduction of the wolf, saved the landscape.
What Malone didn’t have answers to, according to Jo Stanko, a rancher from the area, was the livestock issue.
“It’s the ranchers that ultimately take the emotional brunt,” Stanko said, sharing several stories involving producers losing animals to wolf predation.
“If the Sierra Club and these other organizations were honest, they would be forthright about their real goals — no hunting, no grazing, no using federal land, except for Patagonia apparel clad hikers and climbers,” Krekeler said.
One story Stanko mentioned is hot in the social media pages currently, and involves elk.
“For everyone that doesn’t want management this is what happens. We had 18 elk slaughtered by wolves on our feed-grounds in one night this week. 16 were calves that were not eaten at all. Killed and left for dead. The other were two pregnant cow elk. The wolves ripped the fetuses from the elk, most likely from signs, while they will still alive, to later die. Again, they did not eat the cows. 18 kills to eat two fetuses. This makes nearly 70 elk on our feed-grounds, alone this winter. We must use common sense, decency and real conversations to regulate this issue,” is posted on the Facebook page of Idahoans for Liberty.
In March 2016, a Wyoming gray wolf pack killed 19 elk in a single night.
“Normally one or two elk a night here and there is no big deal, but 19 in one night is fairly rare,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department supervisor John Lund told a local TV station.
In 2016, in Wyoming, wolves killed a record number of livestock and wildlife managers killed a record number of wolves.
A report released by the USFWS found that wolves killed 243 livestock, including 154 cattle, 88 sheep and one horse, in 2016. In 2015, 134 livestock deaths attributed to wolves were recorded. The previous record was 222 livestock killed in 2009.
As a result, wildlife managers killed 113 wolves in 2016 that were confirmed to be attacking livestock. In 2015, they killed 54 wolves. The state of Wyoming paid cattle and sheep producers $315,062 in compensation for livestock losses.
Communication will continue to be the key, according to Stanko, whether they are “introduced” or not.
“We need the tools to manage them,” she added, pointing out that in Colorado, if a domestic dog can be shot for just “worrying livestock,” it would make sense that a federally regulated cousin to the domestic dog, should fall under the same rules.
The majestic photos of beautiful wolves running through the snow is a bit romanticized, according to Sarah Smith, with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, and doesn’t take into consideration those who actually have to live with them.
A study published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin analyzed three decades of U.S. and European public opinion polls and found that people with the most positive attitude toward wolves had the least direct experience with them, Smith said. “Which explains the divide in opinion between rural and urban Colorado.”
“It is true that some surveys indicate many Coloradans support having wolves in our state,” the Colorado Parks and Wildlife stated in a recently published article. “Unfortunately, the costs of living with predators are not borne by most of our citizens. Agricultural producers and sportsmen will bear the brunt of the cost.”
For that reason, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission adopted a resolution against a reintroduction.
CCA says there will be a high-level conflict between wolf populations and domestic livestock and the state’s wildlife, not to mention risk for wolf and human contact, pointing out that states like Wyoming, where reintroduction efforts are being implemented, are already struggling with the conflicts, including reproduction losses and stress disorders. Plus, ranchers are not interested in compensation for livestock losses; their goal is to keep them alive.
“We are not raising these animals to be savagely killed by wolves, often for sport. So not only do these reimbursement programs not work, they are unwanted,” CCA’s Executive Vice President Terry Fankhauser said.
An article published in the Spokesman Review highlighted these exact concerns during an interview in 2013 with local Wyoming ranchers. One said when she “applied for compensation for a confirmed wolf kill from a Defenders of Wildlife Program, she got a letter back questioning whether the ranch was ‘purposefully enticing the wolves.’” Another rancher in the area said that he started noticing wolves on his property seven years ago. Before the wolves appeared, he would usually lose a handful of calves every year to natural causes or black bears and now he’s losing 25 calves. “Each calf is worth about $800. If wolves take 20, that’s $16,000,” he said.
Stories like these will become a scary reality for rural Colorado if the reintroduction is approved and it will not only affect the wellbeing of big game and production animals, but also pose a threat to the safety of family pets, opponents believe.
“As Valerius Geist, well-known big game biologist scolded Ed Bangs and the other USFWS service employees 20 years ago in Idaho, ‘You (pointing to them with his finger) have opened Pandora’s Box and you will see, that you cannot close it.’ Meaning, once these wolves are released, they can never be controlled or removed,” Krekeler said.
— Eatherton is a freelance writer from Beulah, Wyo. When she’s not writing, she’s riding her horse or playing with her grandson. She can be reached at email@example.com.