You’ve probably noticed there’s a group bent on introducing wolves into Colorado. Here are some of their most popular claims:
The presence of wolves automatically leads to a healthier ecosystem;When wolves return, willows, beavers and other species “come back”; and Wolves do not result in conflict with people and livestock.Scientific research does not back up their arguments.
Hard data does not show that wolves automatically benefit an ecosystem. The lead author of the Yellowstone study pro-wolf factions consistently quote stated this in his abstract: “Our conclusions are based on theory involving trophic cascades.”
Additionally, a University of Wyoming study refuted the trophic cascade concept. And an additional NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center study, also conducted in Yellowstone, showed reintroducing wolves does not restore an ecosystem to the way it was prior. A Yale University ecologist at the time and Yellowstone elk migration researcher, Dr. Arthur Middleton, also said that study disproves the simple version of trophic cascade.
The two studies referenced above also dispel the wolf-willow growth theory.
As for beavers, research shows 129 beavers were reintroduced with radio transmitters from 1986 to 1999 in the Yellowstone headwaters and they made their way into the park from there. This is conveniently left out of the pro-wolf narrative.
A study published in The Wildlife Society bulletin analyzed three decades of U.S. and European public opinion polls, and found people with the most positive attitude toward wolves had the least direct experience with them. According to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the reimbursement of market value for an animal lost to wolves does not take into consideration the loss of reproduction or the economic loss experienced from severe stress disorders that cattle, sheep and horses suffer due to exposure to wolves.
It’s important to note that the environmental/animal rights groups pushing wolf introduction are the same groups that either tried or are still trying to delay or deny state management of our wildlife, wolves included – Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, Wolves of the Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Wild Earth Guardians, etc.
Recent history in the Northern Rockies shows that once the wolf is reintroduced, they ignore the already-agreed-upon delisting criteria after populations meet minimum recovery levels that would place them under state management. The original recovery goals for wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were 100 wolves and 10 packs per state. (Idaho and Montana bumped those numbers up to 150 wolves and 15 packs.) Once wolf populations met recovery criteria, environmental groups filed a minimum of 15 lawsuits to stop delisting, in essence, moving the goalposts. Litigation is still active in the Great Lakes region. Lessons learned from the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction should be heeded in considering the long-term future of Colorado’s wildlife.
Science, not emotion or argument or debate, must take the lead in governing wildlife management practices. This science must come from the wildlife professionals who manage Colorado’s wildlife, not federal courtrooms, lawyers and those with other agendas.
Reintroducing wolves would have a detrimental impact on elk herds like those in southern Colorado already dealing with downward recruitment patterns (less elk being born) over the last two decades.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is already on the record about wolves. It approved a 2016 resolution regarding the reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves by stating it “opposes the intentional release of any wolves into Colorado.” This decision stems from the professional opinions and consensus of CPW’s biologists.
Lastly, the argument that wolves must be returned to their “once native ranges” is unrealistic, as man is here now in large proportions; man must manage wildlife. There are multiple species of animals, elk included, that do not exist in their once native ranges. This is a reality we all must live with today.
David Allen is President and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Reach him at (406) 523-0294.