Wolf Reintroduction Story in Colorado Springs Gazette by Liz Forster

This image of what appears to be a radio-collared wolf was sent to Colorado Parks and Wildlife from a member of the public near Colorado State Forest State Park in July 2019. (Photo: CPW)

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.

29 thoughts on “Wolf Reintroduction Story in Colorado Springs Gazette by Liz Forster”

  1. I can’t speak to most other aspects of this, but I know the forced reintroduction of wolves in Colorado is very worrying to the motorized recreation community. As soon as another special species is introduced here, that will create a whole new category of habitat that anti-motorized groups will use as an excuse to close motorized trails.

    Even if not the wolves directly, elk habitat is already one of the biggest reasons they cite to close our trails. When wolves start decimating elk populations in Colorado, I guarantee that somehow, the blame will be placed on motorized recreation and our trails “fragmenting habitat” rather than the wolves.

    It will be interesting to see how this referendum goes at least. The supporters of forced reintroduction already lost the scientific argument when they couldn’t get the support of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Now we’ll see where playing politics and making emotional appeals to the scientifically illiterate public get them.

    • This is a good question for Jon.. will it matter whether they are reintroduced or not as to ESA and land use decisions? Or it doesn’t matter how they get there in terms of land management restrictions? Or does it even matter if they have showed up yet, or could show up in the future (possible future habitat?)?

      I seem to remember a court case on private lands (frogs in the South) about how much a landowner would have to change management to provide habitat for a creature that wasn’t there.

      • I’m not sure, but I do know that the Forest Service is already using the introduction of bighorn sheep into the Hayman burn area as an excuse not to reopen the highly desired 4WD trails in Wildcat Canyon. They released a document last year claiming that as one of the “changed circumstances” which is preventing them from implementing the 2004 Hayman Roads EA and necessitating a new environmental study before those roads could be reopened.

        Of the things they cited as changed circumstances in that document, the introduction of bighorn sheep was the only one that was actually a new circumstance that was not already extensively analyzed in the original EA which concluded those roads should be reopened. So the deliberate introduction of a species into an area can most certainly be used as a justification to close motorized routes.

        • That’s interesting to me because it seems like there are many bighorn sheep around already, although perhaps not in all the places they could be. https://cpw.state.co It seems like different aspects of habitat loss and hunting losses might all be factored in to decisions to manage the populations. Say 4WD trail users might want to keep their trails and reduce hunting permits…and hunters vice versa.

        • Off the top of my head….

          I cannot think of one example in the northern Rockies of where a U.S. Forest Service road was closed to motor vehicles, or a timber sale was stopped, or a coal mine was shut down, or an oil and gas lease was canceled because of the presence of wolves.

          Could be that I just wasn’t paying attention, or I missed it, so curious to see what Jon and others know.

          • I think that impression is pretty accurate. When and where wolves are listed under ESA, the effects of projects on them must to be considered, but I don’t recall that they have ever amounted to much (wolves are pretty adaptable to land management activities, more so than being shot). One exception could be grazing, where an acute conflict between wolves and cows could lead to grazing restrictions. That said, if wolves reduce elk numbers, and managers want more elk, they would probably look at everything that affects elk numbers, and roads can be a big factor.

            But should managers want more elk? The noticeable conflicts with wolves involve state interests and actions in pursuit of that, some of which have been mentioned in this thread. Having wolves on a national forest introduces potential conflicts with federal obligations. That is especially true in wilderness, where eliminating wolves (arguably a wilderness characteristic) to increase elk has been in court. Once there are wolves on a national forest, they would need to managed for viable populations and their natural range of variability (hopefully followed by NRV for other habitat and species), which might also conflict with state big game objectives.

            Sharon asked some interesting ESA questions. Reintroduction is a little outside of my wheelhouse, but it may make a difference how wolves get to Colorado. Species can be reintroduced under the provisions of §10(j) of ESA for “experimental populations.” That allows the listing agency to make exceptions to usual requirements for listed species, and if they are “non-essential” (which I think all §10(j) populations have been), consultation may not be necessary. So there is potentially less of a “burden” than with natural recolonization.

            Wolves have a complicated history under ESA, but Mexican wolves were reintroduced under §10(j), as an example. (Ideally, there would be a recovery plan that would provide some guidance, but there isn’t a one that covers Colorado – a lawsuit has been threatened to sue over this.) Lynx were reintroduced to Colorado, but apparently not as an experimental population, so have been treated as if they got there naturally (which may have also happened, as is the case for wolves) with full ESA protections. Another example to look at is the reintroduction of grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho and Montana. The FWS proposed a §(10)j reintroduction in 2000, but that decision was reversed by a new administration. (They are now showing up on their own, which has its own problems.)

            So back to the broader question, we shouldn’t be surprised if politics enters into the decision, regardless of the science. In Michigan there were dueling referendums on whether to allow wolf hunting. I have no problem in principle with the public pulling rank on their representatives and making law directly. It forces the lobbyists to do their work in public. Hopefully there will be a lot of science, presented in a way that non-experts can understand, and why not have a formal science review to help with that? (Unfortunately, the public seems recently to be overly vulnerable to misinformation backed by the most money, sort of like legislators are by money directly.)

            (The Louisiana gopher frog case decided by the Supreme Court involved the designation of critical habitat for a listed species on private land, and involved the language of the critical habitat provisions of ESA. Critical habitat has not been designated for gray wolves. If it did become an issue, wolves and gopher frogs are at opposite ends of the scale for specific habitat needs and I can’t imagine private land being needed for wolves.)

  2. Sharon wrote: “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.”

    Not sure if any of the following research was specifically conducted in Colorado, but the science and understanding of predator and pray relationships between wolves, elk and deer and so-called trophic cascades are pretty well understood, and can be easily verified online with some basic google searches. Here are some examples:

    Alston et al. 2019. Reciprocity in restoration ecology: when might large carnivore reintroduction restore ecosystems? Biological Conservation 234:82-89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.03.021

    Cusak et al. 2019. Weak spatiotemporal response of prey to predation risk in a freely interacting system. J. Animal Ecology 2019: 1-19

    Marshall KN et al. 2013 Stream hydrology limits recovery of riparian ecosystems after wolf reintroduction. Proc R Soc B 280: 20122977. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2977

    Mech, L.D. and R.O. Peterson. 2003. “Wolf-Prey Relations” USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. 321. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/usgsnpwrc/321

    Mech, L. D., and L. Boitani (eds.). 2003. WOLVES: BEHAVIOR, ECOLOGY, AND CONSERVATION. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, and London, United Kingdom. 448 pp.

    Ripple, W.J., Beschta, R.L. 2011.Trophic cascades in Yellowstone: The first 15 years after wolf reintroduction. Biol. Conserv. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.11.005

    • Matthew, did you notice the studies cited in the news article? Those would imply that they are not “well understood” and how the different studies relate is not “easily verified by google searches.”

  3. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s long-standing blatant hatred and unscientific fear-mongering about wolves (a critical native wildlife specie) might best be captured here:

    The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is funding a $1000 ‘bounty’ per trapped and killed wolf in Idaho

    Or here, in this piece written in 2012 by my friend David Stalling:

    A once-proud conservation group has lost its way

    Recently, the family of Olaus J. Murie demanded that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation cancel the organization’s Olaus J. Murie Award. The surprising reason? The foundation’s “all-out war against wolves is anathema to the entire Murie family.”

    I sympathize with the family’s position for several reasons. In 1999, while working for the Elk Foundation, I created the Olaus J. Murie Award, with the coordination and the approval of the Murie family. The award recognized scientists working on behalf of elk and elk habitat and was given in the name of Olaus J. Murie because he is widely considered the “father” of modern elk research.

    Murie, who did groundbreaking work at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in the 1940s, also wrote Elk of North America, the first comprehensive and scientific treatise on elk and elk management.

    During most of its 28-history, the Elk Foundation and its more than 185,000 members, who are primarily hunters, avoided controversy. Instead, the group focused on its mission: “To ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat.” Most of the foundation’s leaders had solid backgrounds in wildlife biology, ecology and wildlife management, and they resisted the occasional pressure from hunters to get involved in issues such as gun rights or wolf reintroduction.

    “We are not a hunting organization supporting conservation; we are a conservation organization supported by hunters,” former foundation director Gary Wolfe used to say.

    But starting in 2000, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s board of directors changed, many staff members were fired, and the nonprofit group went through a string of short-term directors. Then in 2007, the foundation board hired David Allen, a former marketer for NASCAR and the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, as its director. At first, it seemed that Allen would follow a path similar to former leaders.

    “We are not a hunting club. We don’t intend to be a hunting club. We are a membership organization that has an overwhelming number of hunters … but we’re not doing wildlife conservation to improve our hunting,” Allen said when he took on the job. That approach did not last long.

    “Wolf reintroduction is the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison herds,” Allen said recently, as he claimed that wolves are “decimating” and “annihilating” elk herds. “To keep wolf populations controlled, states will have to hold hunts, shoot wolves from the air and gas their dens,” he said.

    When asked about the utility of predator-prey relationships, Allen explained, “Natural balance is a Walt Disney movie. It isn’t real.” Under his leadership, the Elk Foundation recently offered the state of Montana $50,000 to contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to “aggressively” kill more wolves. “And the next step is the grizzly bear,” he said. “We’ve got bear issues with elk calves in the spring — both grizzly and black bear. We can’t have all these predators with little aggressive management and expect to have ample game herds, and sell hunting tags and generate revenue.”

    This approach has not gone over well with some conservationists. Ralph Maughan, director of the Western Watersheds Project and the Wolf Recovery Foundation, said that foundation director “Allen has not only taken a strongly anti-wolf position, but he has done it taking an ‘in your face’ way to traditional conservation organizations such as those supported by Olaus Murie, which he now calls ‘extremist.’” “Allen has also expressed contempt for many of the concepts of ecology, as he seems to be moving the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation toward a single species, single value of elk (hunting) approach.”

    There has been a lot of good, solid research on elk and wolf interactions, some of it funded by the Elk Foundation in years past. Most of it that shows that when wolves are restored to an ecosystem, both habitat and elk herds improve. Allen’s claims are not backed by science.

    “Mr. Allen and his anti-wolf rhetoric has alienated him and his organization from many of the very organizations that have helped the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation — in subtle and profound ways — garner the successes it has over the years,” said Bob Ferris, a 30-year wildlife researcher who was involved in bringing wolves back to the Yellowstone ecosystem.

    The family of Olaus J. Murie, the “father” of modern elk research and management, agrees with these criticisms. A foundation that once understood the complex relationship between elk and wolves has succumbed to the pressures of hunters who don’t like wolves.

    Dave Stalling is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is an elk hunter, fisherman and wildlife conservationist and lives in Missoula, Montana.

    • Whatever disagreements folks have with RMEF, I don’t think calling their point of view “unscientific” is a) accurate or b) helpful.
      It’s fundamentally not a science question. Also the gentleman quoted in the news article did not evidence hatred, just the desire to move slowly to give people and animals a chance to adapt. I don’t think that’s hating wolves, it’s just compassionate to all the animals and people involved.

      • Sharon: When the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation publicly states “Wolf reintroduction is the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison herds” calling such a statements “unscientific” seems 100% accurate and entirely appropriate.

      • The man’s name is Blake Henning, not “Hemming,” and he is RMEF’s chief conservation officer. RMEF has zero credibility when it comes to wolves. They ignore and distort science (even research they’ve helped fund) and spread lies, myths and misconceptions about wolves, and they help pay a bounty in Idaho to kill wolves.

        They have repeatedly made statements such as “wolves are the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison,” and “wolves and grizzly bears are annihilating our elk herds,” and they have supported the killing of wolves by helicopter in Idaho, the poisoning of wolves in their dens, and efforts to eliminate an entire pack of wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

        They promote typed of “wolf management” that goes against everything we know about wolf behavior, ecology and biology.

        So yes, their approach is very unscientific and it’s fair to say they hate wolves.

  4. See also: https://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/the-plight-of-aspen-groves/

    The plight of aspen groves
    Letters to the Editor | January 2, 2020

    As discussed in a recent article in The Aspen Times, locally, aspen groves are struggling. But aspen is not only struggling locally; aspen groves are struggling across Colorado.

    Paul Rogers, director of Western Aspen Alliance, identified a combination of anthropogenic habitat alterations that are impacting aspen groves including overabundant deer and elk population which selectively forage on young aspen shoots — the same shoots that would otherwise replace aging and dying trees thereby regenerate aspen forests.

    Across the West, aspen groves are threatened by numerous anthropogenic impacts, but especially by an interaction between climate warming and unchecked herbivory from both large ungulates and livestock.

    As Rogers suggests, reintroducing gray wolves could help restore aspen groves by keeping elk and deer moving, so that they don’t eat all the young aspen shoots.

    Decades of reliable science documents that gray wolves, if present for long enough and with sufficient numbers and distribution, can initiate the restoration of healthy aspen woodlands — primarily by keeping elk and deer on the move, thereby preventing them from over-browsing their food resource.

    Along with the restoration of aspen woodlands comes the restoration of a diversity of native wildlife that depend on these habitats — songbirds and raptors, and small mammals such as voles that are an important food for pine marten.

    Cattle also like to linger in aspen groves and browse young aspen shoots — often to desuetude. Implementation of livestock-carnivore coexistence strategies can help resolve conflicts between livestock and aspen and between livestock and wolves. One such strategy, range riders, both keep livestock moving, which prevents vegetation over-browsing and enables vegetation recovery, and can prevent carnivore depredations on livestock.

    Coloradans have an opportunity to restore aspen groves by restoring a natural balance. In 2020 vote yes on Initiative 107 — Colorado’s Restore Gray Wolf Population Initiative.

    Delia G Malone
    Redstone, Colorado

    • Matthew, here is what Mark Boyce’s paper here https://academic.oup.com/jmammal/article/99/5/1021/5107035 says about aspen in Yellowstone .. “the science” is not as straightforward as some suggest. And, of course, there is no cattle grazing in Yellowstone.(my italics)

      The dynamics of aspen and elk continue to perplex us. Beetle (1979) and Gruell (1979) noted that declining aspen could be attributed to heavy browsing by elk as well as an absence of fire. Small fires were ineffective because resprouting aspen attracted heavy herbivory, preventing recovery (Bartos and Mueggler 1979). So, we presumed that what was needed were large fires so that aspen had opportunity to escape elk herbivory. The extensive fires of 1988 gave us the presumed remedy, but elk numbers were so high that aspen could not escape herbivory even though there was extensive resprouting and aspen seed establishment (Romme et al. 2011). Subsequent to wolf recovery, we observed that in the presence of wolves, elk tended to move away from aspen stands toward either open grasslands or coniferous forests (Fortin et al. 2005a). Yet, Kauffman et al. (2010) found that aspen stands were still suffering heavy elk browsing even in high-predation-risk sites. I believe that there are 3 probable explanations: 1) our radiocollars were set to a 5-h fix schedule and with such a long period between fixes, we could not obtain good resolution in a step-selection function (Fortin et al. 2005a); 2) interactions between wolves and elk are highly dynamic in space and time; and 3) we treated all aspen stands as equal in the analysis, whereas in reality there is substantial variation in the perceived threat of wolf approach among stands because of variation in cover and topography. Nevertheless, Painter et al. (2015) present evidence that some stands of aspen in Yellowstone are now recovering, but there is not convincing evidence that this is driven by a behaviorally mediated response by elk to wolves (Kauffman et al. 2013). Clearly, resolution the dynamics of herbivory and trophic cascades in aspen warrants continuing study.

  5. See also, for an example of RMEF’s anti-wolf rhetoric:

    Colorado Elk Herd in the Crosshairs


    RMEF Warns of Colorado Wolf Reintroduction Ballot Initiative

    MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is signaling a warning about an organized ballot initiative effort just underway in Colorado seeking to forcibly introduce gray wolves into the state.

    “To be clear, RMEF strongly opposes the forced introduction of gray wolves to Colorado,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “We have witnessed 20 plus years of lies and litigation in the Northern Rockies concerning wolves. This Colorado effort is driven by the same groups using the same tactics to accomplish their agenda.”

    P.S. Here’s another Smokey Wire Bonus! Below is a photo of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation CEO Kyle Weaver hanging out with Russian operative Alexander Torshin (a high-level official from Vladimir Putin’s party who federal U.S. prosecutors say directed a conspiracy by Russian agent Maria Butina to influence American politics) when Kyle Weaver was the NRA’s operations director.

  6. As for Blake Henning’s tiresome old claim that “ballot initiatives circumvent wildlife management”:

    I hear that a lot from my fellow hunters and from hunting organizations — that wildlife decisions should be made by “wildlife professionals” and state wildlife commissioners whose opinions are “based on science,” not by “citizens who are acting out of emotion.”

    We hunters love to claim that our approach to wildlife management is based on science. And, of course, it should be, but too often it’s not.

    The Idaho Fish and Game Department conducts aerial shooting of wolves and sends bounty hunters into wilderness areas to eliminate wolf packs despite what we know about wolf behavior, ecology and biology. That’s not management based on science.

    Throughout the West, we continue to carry out a war on coyotes and wolves despite overwhelming scientific evidence that such actions disrupt the social and breeding behavior of these animals and can, ironically, result in even larger numbers of coyotes and wolves. That’s not management based on science.

    Colorado proposed a ban on the baiting of bears years ago, based on scientific evidence that the baiting of bears was having negative impacts by habituating bears to human handouts and changing their natural habits. The state’s chief bear biologist at the time penned a piece in support of the baiting ban for Outdoor Life. Before it was published (and before anyone even read it) hunters and hunting organizations rallied against Outdoor Life and successfully prevented the publication of the piece. Two editors left their jobs over the incident. That’s not management based on science.

    Wildlife management decisions are often based on public needs and desires, and that should be part of the process. But sometimes those needs and desires go against science. Hunters and the agricultural industry have a lot of power over state legislatures and wildlife management. One consequence is that other citizens feel left out of the decision-making, and are often ridiculed and attacked by hunters and trappers. Our system, with all its tremendous achievements, has flaws, and those flaws can lead us closer to animal husbandry than science-based wildlife management.

    A report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the flaws of the North American model of wildlife management summed it up this way: “Wildlife management conducted in the interest of hunters can lead to an overabundance of animals that people like to hunt, such as deer, and the extermination of predators that also provide a vital balance to the ecosystem.”

    I recently heard a hunter who makes hunting videos, and who is a spokesman for RMEF, criticize the “animal rights extremists” who file lawsuits to protect wolves, claiming such lawsuits go against “sound, scientific management” and our “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.” Those citizens filed those lawsuits in response to states doing things such as gunning down wolves from helicopters and sending in bounty hunters to eliminate packs in wilderness areas. That’s not management based on science.

    The executive director of RMEF has repeatedly called wolves “the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison,” and claims wolves and grizzly bears are “annihilating” our elk herds. That’s also not promoting management based on science.

    Ballot initiatives can help citizens defend and demand good science when state wildlife agencies won’t because they’re catering to the demands of hunters and the agricultural community.

    • Dave, I’m confused, you said
      “Throughout the West, we continue to carry out a war on coyotes and wolves despite overwhelming scientific evidence that such actions disrupt the social and breeding behavior of these animals and can, ironically, result in even larger numbers of coyotes and wolves. That’s not management based on science.”
      Right now we have no (or few) wolves in Colorado. Apparently the “war” that has been carried out was fairly successful based on lack of wolves here, despite its lack of scientific basis.

      My point was not that science can’t tell us what works and what doesn’t, but it can’t tell us what our goals should be. I think that’s what makes “science-based management” as a term so confusing. It’s easy to confuse the science related to “how to” with “science” determining an outcome, an ends vs. means question. Managing wolf populations for what end is a value judgment. Choosing the means should be based on science, Native knowledge, practitioner (wildlife biologist) knowledge, monitoring and all that.

      • Sorry for the confusion. I’ll rephrase what I wrote to reduce confusion and clarify:

        Throughout the West, where wolves currently exist, particularly in Montana and Idaho, state wildlife agencies carry out management activities based more on social pressure from hunting and agricultural interests than science, and in which management actions often do not achieve stated objectives, but in fact often exacerbate the problems managers claim to be addressing because the management actions are not based on our current scientific knowledge and understanding of wolf ecology, biology and behavior, specifically what we know about the social and breeding behavior of these animals. That’s not management based on science. Rather, it’s management based on social and political pressure from the agricultural industry, hunters and hunting groups (such as RMEF) that support unscientific approaches based on their hatred of wolves.

        • So not wanting wolves around (in the general area) because they might kill your animals is an “unscientific” point of view? Science doesn’t tell us which species are preferable … that’s a value judgment.

          I’d say simply in Colorado that the evidence seems to point to less wolf predation (or none) on livestock compared to Wyoming, and I would hypothesize the reason is due to a lack of wolves. Is that not scientific thinking?

          I think you are saying “once you have wolves, and you have a set of value objectives, you should manage them using scientific information to best meet those value objectives.”. is that it?

          • What if we conducted a scientifically sound, statistically sound survey of opinions about wolf management and applied the results? Would that be scientific management?

            What if we did that survey and then took a collaborative approach to coming up with a management plan, all informed by solid ecological and biological science, so participants learned more than they knew when the survey was done? Now, the survey results might no longer apply because learning occurred and opinions changed.

            What I’m getting at is that what we mean by science and science-based matters, including what we allow into the science tent, and whether those value-objectives are seen as static or as affected by learning, like what happens through a collaborative process.

          • No. I’m saying that management often does not achieve stated goals and objectives —- but, in fact, often exacerbates problems managers claim that their management actions should solve. This happens because wolves are not always managed in accordance with what we know about their biology, ecology and behavior. For example: claiming that management actions will help reduce cattle depredation when research shows that those management actions may actually increase depredation, yet continuing those management actions and ignoring science because of political pressure — That is, well, not very scientific by any scientific standards, and regardless of your values.

            • David, I think we’re missing each other because I’m thinking Colorado. We have no wolf depredation due to management actions (not reintroducing wolves). This does not actually increase depredation. So clearly you are thinking of some specific other management actions that occur somewhere else. Please be specific and that will be helpful in this discussion… management action.. specific location.

  7. I always get a kick out of people trying to “protect” Aspen from wildlife, when the purported desirability of Aspen is that it provides forage for large ungulates and other species. I once convinced the local refuge of the error in their ways when they fenced Moose out of a stand.
    We have an apex predator, it is called “man”. Between hunters and wolves it seems the terror and suffering never end now. Witnessing this is the hardest thing about living in the back country.

    • Patrick, back in the ancient days when I was a young sprout, the FS used wildlife money to cut pine out of wildlife stands and favor aspen, and timber money to cut aspen out of pine-growing stands and favor pine. I think (or I’d like to think) we’ve come a long way since then.

  8. In reading through the comments here I’ve noticed quite a few ideas about wolves and their effect on ecosystems that are no longer accepted by the preponderance of biologists studying the species. I think some get so wrapped up in their own rhetoric that they don’t realize when they are telling whoppers.

    David Mech founder of the International Wolf Center, preeminent wolf researcher in the US, and probably the world wrote “Is Science In Danger of Sanctifying the Wolf”. Sanctifying is the accepted meta analysis to date of research on the wolf in the western US.

    Sharon is right when noting the difference between science and policy, and it’s near impossible to advocate for sound policy when based on incorrect science. But then that’s the point isn’t it? No advocates will ever say what populations of wolves are enough and when, how, and funded by who, management will occur. Indeed advocates actually call for no wildlife management at all, and make vague references to the long ago discarded balance of nature myth.

    Of course discussion of the issue is irrelevant anyway. Denver has far more urban people experiencing the outdoors via Outside magazine than actually going, well, outside. Ballot box biology has been very effective in Colorado.

  9. Kind of funny everyone here is still talking about science like it has any actual relevance to this. Now that it’s a referendum, wolf reintroduction in Colorado is a straight up political issue. It’s all about which side has a better funded campaign and can best sway the public with emotional appeals. Science has got nothing to do with it, except that each side will claim science is on their side for rhetorical advantage.

  10. I’m wondering if the point is going to be moot. “Colorado voters will be asked this fall whether to deliberately reintroduce MORE gray wolves on Western Slope” (my emphasis).
    (The “more” also tells me that the 10(j) experimental reintroduction is not an option now.)

    As Bob just said, wolves are have shown that they are pretty good at finding places that they think need wolves, and they have done it pretty quickly in Washington and Oregon (where like in Colorado they are currently protected as endangered species).

  11. Here’s the latest on the Selway-Bitterroot grizzlies. The Fish and Wildlife Service has written to the Forest Service that bears that have made it there are fully protected by the Endangered Species Act (not an experimental population). All four of these forests are revising or will soon revise their forest plans and will have to provide conditions to support grizzly bear recovery (Bears, especially females, are not as adept at dispersing as wolves.)


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