The Wolf Reintroduction to Colorado initiative just got enough signatures for the ballot, which reminded me that I never had a chance to post this excellent (IMHO) article by Liz Forster, formerly of the Colorado Springs Gazette and currently a law student at University of Montana. While there tend to be controversies about wolves, this controversy seems to be about whether the State of Colorado lets them come in “naturally” or develops a program to reintroduce them.
Here is my earlier post:
I thought Liz Forster did a great job on this article on reintroducing wolves to Colorado in terms of helping us understand both, or really, many sides. What is most interesting to me is the idea that species need to be reintroduced and how this is portrayed as a scientific idea, rather than a value or preference.
The wolves’ re-establishment in Colorado’s wilderness — ideally, say backers, 100 to 200 within 10 years — would trigger a ripple of benefits among wildlife, plants and other organisms and restore ecosystemic balance, the Wolf Action Fund argues.
“It’s important that we reunite the path of wolf movement from [the] north to south [borders] because with movement you have integration, which is good for ecological health,” said Rick Ridder, the campaign’s spokesman. “It all ties into: let’s keep Colorado wild, let’s keep our wilderness wild and let’s try to keep what we love about Colorado and our mountains for our children and grandchildren.”
The concept of “ecosystemic balance” is questionable, as we’ve discussed before, not least in Botkin’s book Discordant Harmonies. I’m not sure exactly what “integration” or “ecological health” means in that context. I can see that linking the populations from Canada to Mexico could provide for more gene exchange, except that isn’t the Mexican Gray Wolf considered to be subspecies, so it it “good” for them to mate with other gray wolves, or “bad”?. But if it’s good because of gene exchange leading to more diversity, couldn’t we do that now (captive breeding?). But would the subspecies still be “endangered” then and have the same legal hooks for protection? And of course, having more predators may be great unless you happen to be a member of a species that gets predated upon (or have companion animals/livestock that get predated upon), or you happen to be a species that has benefited from more prey. Remember niche theory? There are two ideas that may be important here: 1) the idea that there is some kind of interest of wholeness above that of individual species, or 2) the past is best. Both ideas are interesting to contemplate, but neither actually is a scientific idea. In fact, looking at the past tells us that plants, animals, and a variety of other organisms are constantly changing, moving, and so on- ending up in a variety of unpredictable assemblages over time. And humans have changed both the environment and the movement of species over time.
And logically, if the wolf has been absent for 70 years, are we really “keeping what we love” or trying to duplicate the past we don’t actually remember? Time’s arrow only goes one way, so is that possible? Should we equally get rid of dams and other water infrastructure Colorado rivers to go back to the past? Or kick people out of recreating or other activities? As with all other “let’s go back” interventions, clearly this is a decision where there would be species, and people, winners and losers. There’s not a “science” answer.
Here’s some more interesting stuff from her article:
A study published by the University of Wyoming in April showed that the ubiquity with which the promise of the Yellowstone example was applied to other places might not have as much merit as proponents say. The trophic cascades associated with the reintroduction of an apex predator sometimes happened in the studies they reviewed, sometimes it didn’t.
“We need more studies,” said Jesse Alston, the paper’s lead researcher, in Science Daily. “More tests of this ‘assumption of reciprocity,’ as we call it — particularly via rigorous experimental studies — would be really helpful. This is hard data to get, but we really do need it before we can credibly claim that large carnivores restore ecosystems. They might not.”
A 2018 study by Mark Boyce of the University of Alberta also emphasized the mixed results of wolf reintroduction in areas with significant human presence versus a protected space like Yellowstone.
I would tend to agree with Hemming of RMEF
A ballot initiative, Henning added, also circumvents the wildlife management protocols put in place that require a commission to review the scientific viability of the plan, a public review process and other checks and balances.
“My fear is that it would be rushed,” he said. “The slow, natural immigration of those animals can be softer so that the elk and people can adjust, and we can prepare a management plan for them.”
But Weber says we need to be in more of a hurry.
Natural migration could take years, most likely decades, though, Weber said, and the ecosystem can’t wait that long.
“Coloradans need to go to places where the killing of wolves has led to the destruction of the ecosystem, where the vegetation is destroyed,” Weber said. “Then we can get Coloradans to stand proud and say, ‘We won’t do the same thing.’ ”
I guess I haven’t seen any “destroyed ecosystems” or “destroyed vegetation” caused by lack of wolves, myself, and so I don’t quite understand the urgency.