The interesting twist of wolves in Colorado, is that they’re coming back on their own, but mostly urban voters want more to be reintroduced. So the two positions are 1) more or less “natural” wolf migration versus 2) human-managed reintroduction of wolves.
Bruce Finley wrote what I think is a thoughtful, fair, well-balanced article in the Denver Post yesterday, worth reading in its entirety.
State wildlife biologists would be required to install wolves on public land west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023, enough to ensure wolf survival, with public input and compensation for ranchers who lose livestock. The wording of the ballot measure enshrines proponents’ view that wolves were “an essential part of the wild habitat of Colorado” before extermination and must be restored to bring back “a critical balance in nature.”
The idea of “balance of nature” is an idea without scientific basis, as we have discussed many times. And again, we may think about what used to be niche theory in ecology that says that other species will step in to the niche.. say mountain lions and coyotes. I certainly can’t tell that the Great Plains “need” bison to “restore a critical balance.”
A voter-driven re-introduction of wolves through direct democracy in Colorado would mark an unprecedented assertion of rising urban demands for ecological integrity with a full mix of species inhabiting public land.
The problem is that the arrival of wolves on their own, let alone artificially installing more, complicates human existence because the federal government still protects wolves as an endangered species. Ranchers legally cannot kill or harass a wolf, even if it’s attacking a calf, without risking jail time and a $100,000 fine. Blocking ranchers from fulfilling an ingrained moral duty creates “a helpless feeling,” Dickinson said. “You are powerless to react.”
Beyond operational disruptions, ranchers and local leaders confide they’re bothered most at a deeper level by what they see as an urban attack on agriculture akin to twisting a stick in the eye.
“What have we got left?” former Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck said. “Tourism and recreation? We can’t hang our hat on that.”
I remember when John Hickenlooper was the Mayor of Denver and we had an early Colorado Roadless public meeting at which he spoke. I remember his speech- the rest of Colorado seemed to him an uninhabited landscape whose highest and best use was providing a backdrop and playground to bring businesses to Denver. It was almost as if the landscape were uninhabited and the proper role of the individuals were as a service industry to people from the metro area. I remarked to Rick Cables, the Regional Forester, that Hick sounded remarkably colonialist to me. Now, Hick changed gracefully (IMHO) when he became Governor, to considering the views of all Coloradans and treating them with respect. But the concept that “we know better than you do what you should do with the land you live in, and we are willing to impose our vision through the force of government” may well feel the same (colonialist) to folks in NW Colorado.
Here are some thoughts of from Senator Kerry Donovan D- Vail:
Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, got involved trying to broker a compromise. A Democrat representing people in mountain counties who works as a small-scale rancher raising highland cattle and whose family has refused to sell out to developers, Donovan sees the storm over wolves as destructive.
She introduced legislation that would delay wolf reintroduction until 2025, ensure sufficient funding and better address agricultural community concerns about compensation and provisions for protecting livestock. But amid lawmakers’ focus on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, she sidelined her measure once it was accepted for mark-up.
Seeking shade as the sun beat down recently at her ranch, Donovan winced at the rankling of ranchers and other rural residents.
“The problem is when everything around you also seems to be shifting, you reach your breaking point. And the wolf is a pretty good villain,” she said.
Ranchers see second homes that mostly sit vacant multiplying across mountain valleys. These bring city folks interested in shopping, dining and organized recreational activities. The newcomers often lack patience for sheep and cattle herding that forces temporary road closures. Land prices spike, increasing temptations to sell out. Then come restrictions on using pesticides and water, and requirements to inspect and monitor monitoring of livestock, she said.
“Everything just stacks up,” she said. “And then you see we are going to take a ballot initiative where people in the Front Range population centers are going to vote on introducing a predator — an apex predator — into your backyard. Not their backyard.”
Yet Colorado needs cooperation to preserve open natural landscapes, Donovan said. While she was inclined to vote for wolf reintroduction, she’s also planning to lead hard conversations about saving nature, including predators, in the face of development.
Front Range residents increasingly flee their densifying cities seeking solace in mountain valleys. “Maybe Denver shouldn’t be saying, ‘Hey, come to the great outdoors. Live here and go there.’ Denver should be saying, ‘Come to the great outdoors. Live here,’ ” Donovan said.
That would require expanding greenspace inside cities. “Taking back the South Platte River? That’s something we should be really investing in — making the Platte a functioning ecosystem.” And urban planners could convert streets to parks, expand greenbelt trails and plant more gardens.
My thoughts.. everyone agrees (?) that lethal force should be used as a last resort.
everyone agrees that wolves are coming back on their own.
And yet there is still a controversy, part of it sounds like it’s about urban colonialism, and the rest about generalized federal land rancher dislike- just the latest skirmish in trying to drive them out.. cattle-free by 2033?
If voters order more wolves, some ranchers warn, they will jeopardize cooperation to preserve open landscapes that city dwellers increasingly covet with population growth and development jam-packing Denver and transforming mountain valleys.
“This will destroy the very real conservation partnership in Colorado between the thoughtful conservation community and agriculture,” Dickinson said. “Colorado has come a long way in my lifetime, away from the ‘Cattle-Free by ’93’ idea that livestock are not integral and beneficial to public lands. Conservation in Colorado will only be successful with a true partnership with agriculture. Why do we want to risk that relationship?