In “Thinking Like a Mountain,” writes Aldo Leopold, “I now suspect that just as a herd of deer lives in mortal fear of its wolves, a mountain lives in mortal fear of its deer. And maybe for a better cause, because while a male slaughtered by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a lineup slaughtered by too many deer can fail to replace in so many decades.
It can be difficult for us to imagine Colorado when wolves roamed the landscape. From 1850 to 1940, an estimated one million wolves went extinct from Colorado and the West. However, a new dawn is on the horizon for Colorado Wolves. Last November, Ballot Proposal 114 was narrowly passed to restore wolves to the Colorado landscape.
The adoption of Proposed Ballot 114 marks the start of a three-year process that begins with the development of a wolf management plan using the best available science before wolves are reintroduced in 2023. Colorado Parks & Wildlife has an up-to-date website on the progress of the management plan. Stakeholders and the general public will be responsible for learning, understanding and compromising on what Colorado Wolves will look like to make the program a success.
Restoring wolves in Colorado is a controversial and complex issue. The goal is to engage in a balanced conversation about the reintroduction of the wolf in order to enhance collaborative efforts to minimize cattle-wolf and human-wolf conflict. The opposition to the reintroduction of the wolf on the part of some herders and landowners who have historical views and experiential reasons for the presence of the wolf is valid. This is due, in part, to the inherent threat wolves can pose to their herds of cattle as well as the amount of federal / state funds provided for repayment.
There is also the potential for conflict between humans and wolves, as we live and recreate in habitats shared with wolves. Public lands and open spaces are areas where wolves could thrive, but could increase the risk of cattle-wolf encounters and the potential for human-wolf conflict. The overall objective is to develop long-term approaches to support the successful reintroduction of the wolf that promotes the sustainability of the species and reduces the potential for conflict.
Reality versus fiction
Wolves are elusive animals and are generally afraid of humans. In contrast, folklore instilled a negative outlook on wolves and the human fear of wolves that dates back to Europe in the Middle Ages.
For example, the reputation of wolves was based on uplifting accounts in Aesop’s fables and Grimm’s fairy tales, and on mythologies from medieval writings such as “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs”.
Colloquialisms like “A wolf in sheep’s clothing” also created fear in the minds of our ancestors. However, the old greed for wolves has faded over the past century as wolves have begun to repopulate some of their historic ranges.
The perception of wolves has evolved over the years. As wolves are reintroduced to Colorado, Colorado’s parks and wildlife will need to balance many perspectives. There is some evidence that a change can occur in people’s attitudes and perceptions towards wolves.
The need for a comprehensive plan
In many places in the United States, urbanization has pushed people to live further from wilderness areas and understanding of wildlife has declined.
In Colorado, the interface between city life and wildlife is more complex as many Colorado residents live and seek adventure in the vast public lands and outdoor spaces. While there is still a lack of understanding of wildlife management, Coloradians are much more accustomed to living along the urban-wilderness barrier.
Some of the unique factors facing the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado include concerns from ranchers about a potential loss of livestock, the possibility of humans encountering wolves during their playtime, and determining the location and presence of wolves. ‘an abundance of prey to support the reintroduction of wolves. The complexity of these factors creates the need for a comprehensive wolf management plan.
Another problem could evolve if wolf prey populations have declined in the historic gray wolf range, now affected by development or by the potential effects of climate change on food sources of herbivores and carnivores in the region. western Colorado. As part of the gray wolf management plans being developed, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will need to determine whether there are areas on the West Slope that are not experiencing an overabundance of prey species that could promote wolf reintroduction.
These locations may require significant management considerations before another top predator can be introduced. These considerations can span the gamut of predator management, big game management and social tolerance. It is important to note that some geographic areas already have a propensity for declining ungulate populations which could continue to struggle in the face of the reintroduction of another apex predator.
Efforts to manage and educate key stakeholders to balance life with wolves can occur through examples of existing livestock, wildlife and wolf management plans, coupled with human awareness campaigns. the The Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife has incorporated some protective measures for livestock management which includes monitoring wolf activity by radio collars, fences and guard animals.
Perhaps interactive signage and advertisements in local newspapers about appropriate behavior for wolf activity in areas where humans and wolves coexist can help increase public safety. Current signage and public social media notifications regarding mountain lion and bear activity could serve as a template for potential wolf encounters.
Some studies in national parks have indicated that wolves could impact biological communities. These studies may provide evidence demonstrating how the 1995 wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone National Park improved the symbiotic relationships between wolves, elk, and woody plants (willow, poplar, and aspen).
While the research in Yellowstone National Park is compelling, extrapolating these results and applying them to western Colorado is not necessarily appropriate. While much remains to be learned from the data collected during the wolf reintroduction effort, wolves are not expected to have this effect outside of national parks and throughout western Colorado.
Education and stakeholder engagement
Studies on wolves have shown that wolves are an opportunistic predatory species that consume all of the most abundant food, including wolves that prey on livestock and pets.
Research into effective methods of cattle-wolf conflict for pasture cattle includes not removing cattle horns and equipping some animals with protective collars. Guardian animals have also proven to be an effective defense mechanism for unattended, free-grazing herds of cattle.
These are just a few examples. When the reintroduction of the wolf occurs, initiating more robust types of education and engagement can influence a positive change in common beliefs within the local community, which will contribute to the success of the program for all party groups. Colorado stakeholders.
Overall, to improve the speech and have a balanced conversion on the re-introduction of the wolf in Colorado, we need to look at different angles to expand education and awareness of the public and key stakeholders to find common themes and to prioritize the problems so that the reintroduction of the wolf becomes a viable reality. . This is an evolving educational process that takes time to cultivate in order to understand the collective attitudes of stakeholders in order to create collaborative efforts to minimize fear and increase understanding of wolf reintroduction.
Let’s do our best to educate ourselves on the implementation of Proposition 114, read the work that has been done so far (but be careful not to extrapolate too much), and work together to create a successful wolf reintroduction program in 2023. Colorado Parks & Wildlife welcomes your comments on their “Stay Informed” wolf reintroduction website at cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/Wolves-Stay-Informed.aspx. and at [email protected].
Kathryn Middleton has lived in Vail since 1982, is a member of the Eagle County Wildlife Roundtable and sits on the Education / Outreach committee. She also sits on the Board of Directors for Mountain Valley Horse Rescue in McCoy.