Will the gray wolf return to Colorado? I believe it should, and the recent Durango Wolf Symposium presented plenty of objective scientific justification why.
Efforts to strip federal protection from wolves across the northern Rockies, consigning them to the bullet, steel trap and poison bait management tactics of state wildlife agencies, are further reason to return this long-missing native to the wild Western Slope of Colorado.
Any plan to reintroduce wolves would present challenges to livestock operators, but also ecological benefits, as has occurred in the Yellowstone region.
Wildlife managers say there is abundant deer and elk for wolves across Western Colorado, but I would just as soon my tax dollars be used to compensate ranchers for occasional wolf predation on livestock than, as is done currently, for elk getting into their winter haystacks.
Any reintroduction plan will require local support and must include protection against financial hardships that threaten small ranch viability. Fortunately, the blueprint for raising livestock in wolf and bear country already exists and is being practiced by ranching families in the northern Rockies, facilitated by an organization called People and Carnivores based in Bozeman, Montana.
The future of wildlife management in Colorado – wolves included, I hope – requires that non-hunters such as myself be brought more formally and substantially into the funding process. I would welcome the opportunity because I find soul-sustaining value in our wild landscapes. As panelist Andrew Gulliford said, however, wild landscapes without wild life is just scenery.
The matter of wolf reintroduction may come down to a simpler question than the ones so much time was spent on at the symposium. The big question isn’t do we have room in Colorado for the wolf, because that answer is yes, but do we have room in our hearts?
The panel discussion often focused on questions regarding economic impacts and financial compensation. Fittingly, Southern Ute Tribal Elder Hanley Frost had the last word. He said the debate on wolves in Colorado should not be based on dollars. It should come from simple respect – respect for a true native elder who called this landscape home long before we came along.