Colorado’s ecosystem would benefit from wolf reintroduction

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Letter to the editor…

A letter from the Middle Park Stockgrowers Association on April 16 reminded me of the exaggerated fears I heard expressed in the run-up to wolf restoration in Yellowstone and central Idaho in 1995-96. A hundred years before that, “In 1884, Montana set a bounty on wolves; in the next three years, 10,261 wolves were bountied. In 1887, the bounty was repealed by a legislature dominated by mining interests. *** “By 1893,… desperate stockmen were reporting losses that were mathematical impossibilities (Lopez, 1978).”

After graduate studies in Forest Recreation and Wildlife Management at CSU, I was the West District Naturalist at Rocky Mountain National Park in the early 1960s, and one of my two sons was born in Kremmling. From 1985 to 1997, I was on the team in the Yellowstone Center for Resources that restored wolves to Yellowstone. I helped put together two reports for Congress, “Wolves for Yellowstone” and the Gray Wolf EIS of 1994. I also taught wolf field courses for the Yellowstone Institute from 1999 to 2005. Now we have 25 years of scientific research on wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains from which Coloradans can learn. Grand County residents might benefit from evaluating some real data from a growing volume of information about the effects of wolves on livestock and hunting in the three states north of them before they make up their minds on the subject of wolf recovery in Colorado.

Breaking down 2015 figures on cattle in the northern Rocky Mountains by counties shared with wolves, we see an inventory of 1,648,1000 cows and 148 losses to wolves, or a rate of about .009%. Adding WA/OR, cattle total was 1,980,600 with 158 losses to wolves and a rate of .007%. This figure is only looking at cattle on land shared by wolves as opposed to taking the entire inventory of each state.

Elk population and harvest figures since wolf restoration do not support the notion that wolves will “decimate” their prey base.

Wyoming – 1995 elk population = 103,448; 1995 elk harvest = 17,695.
2018 elk population = 110,300; 2018 elk harvest = 25,091; average hunter success rate = 44.8%;

Montana – 1995 elk population = 109,500, no harvest data for 1995. 2018 elk population = 138,470 (Objective 92,138) 2018 elk harvest = 27,793.

Idaho – 1995 elk population = 112,333, 1995 elk harvest = 22,437.

2017 elk population = 116,800 (18 elk units at or above objective, 10 units below for a variety of reasons), 2017 elk harvest = 22,751. 2018 harvest = 22,326. 2018 estimated population 120,000+.

Wolves need just two things: adequate vulnerable prey and human tolerance. Colorado’s elk population in 2018 was 287,000. CPW has intentionally reduced elk populations to achieve population objectives set for each herd. Currently, 22 of 42 (52 percent) elk herds are still above their current population objective ranges. A 1994 study concluded that Colorado could support 1,000 wolves, mostly on public land. Public lands in western Colorado equal about nine times the acreage of Yellowstone National Park.

The danger to humans from wolves is far overblown. In the last 90 years, two people in North America have been reported killed by wild wolves; one in Manitoba, and one in Alaska, among 60,000-70,000 wolves. From 1995 through 2018, Yellowstone hosted 101,070,722 visitors; none injured by a wolf. Among 2.7 million tent campers in Yellowstone from 1995 to 2018, no camper was injured by a wolf. The park offers good advice to prevent injury: Do not feed wolves. Do not entice wolves to come closer. Do not approach wolves. Leave room for a wolf to escape. Do not allow a wolf to approach any closer than 300 feet. Children should be under physical control in any hazardous location; belted in your car, helmeted on their bikes, wearing a PFD on water. Don’t let them run, scream, or fall when any predator is present, including dogs. Domestic dogs bite a million people in the U.S. annually, 60-70% of whom are children; 16 of these bites are fatal. Dog owners should know that wolves consider dogs as competitors and kill them.
In short, reintroducing wolves would help to restore Colorado’s natural ecosystem health and integrity.

Wolves can be restored and managed by CPW in a scientific manner that is humane, effective, affordable, and respectful of the needs and concerns of Coloradans. We owe it to future generations to maintain the health of Colorado by keeping wildlife, like wolves, alive.
There is widespread, bipartisan support for restoring wolves to Colorado as revealed by public opinion surveys conducted over the last 20 years. CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources in Fort Collins just published the results of its August 2019 polling about Colorado voter attitudes towards wolf reintroduction (https://peerj.com/articles/9074/). Bottom line: 84% of Colorado voters intend to vote for Proposition 107 this fall, which will require that Colorado Parks and Wildlife reintroduce wolves into the state by the end of 2023. Importantly, 79.8% of West Slope residents said they will vote for wolf restoration, as did 69.5% of those who strongly identified as ranchers and 66.1% of those who strongly identified as hunters.

Approval of Proposition 107 will be democracy at its best, with the citizens telling the government to do what the public wants. Then, the professional agency with the technical and scientific know-how will turn that policy into reality.
Sincerely,
Norman Bishop