Should La Plata County take a stance on the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado? That’s the question now being asked by the county’s all-volunteer wildlife advisory board.
The prospect of reintroducing the once native animal is a controversial topic across the state, eliciting strong opinions and emotions from those both for and against.
While there are no official plans to reintroduce the wolf into Colorado, the sheer possibility has some communities stepping out in front of the issue.
Here in La Plata County, the all-volunteer “Living with Wildlife Advisory Board” is hoping to provide the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners with a recommendation on the issue sometime this summer. The advisory board has not taken a stance and intends to learn more in the coming weeks.
Either way, a vote from county commissioners for or against reintroduction would not hold any actual weight in the decision-making process, though it would at least provide federal wildlife managers a stance from a local entity, the advisory board said.
La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff said Tuesday she’s not sure if the commission should take a side in the debate. However, she said it’s an issue residents are concerned about and warrants further discussion.
“We’ve taken positions on issues in the past, particularly when it deals with the economic interest of the people in our community,” she said.
The argument over wolf reintroductions, if anything, is an impassioned one.
Supporters say having wolves on the landscape brings balance back to local ecosystems and claim the negative impacts are largely overblown by people against the animal’s reintroduction.
Those opposed highlight the damage wolves can have on livestock, as well as elk and deer. And people against reintroduction say wolves will likely migrate to Colorado from the north and south anyway.
Larry Zauberis, a La Plata County rancher who represents agricultural interests on the advisory board, said commissioners should take their stance based on the impacts wolf introduction would have on residents in the county.
“What’s best for the citizens of this county?” he said. “It might be nice to have wolves … but is it actually good for the residents here?”
Zauberis said ranchers and farmers are generally opposed to wolf introduction for a number of reasons, but mainly because of the risk they pose to livestock.
Unlike wolf reintroduction efforts in Yellowstone, Colorado, specifically the southwestern part of the state, has struggling populations of elk and deer, he said.
“The elk populations in our area don’t need to be reduced,” he said.
The advisory board had Charlie Minkler, the president of the La Plata County Farm Bureau, give a short presentation Tuesday about the negative effects of wolf reintroductions. Among a number of reasons to oppose reintroduction, he said a lack of habitat will likely result in conflicts.
“Colorado is not the land of wide open spaces it once was,” Minkler said.
The advisory board plans to have a pro-wolf introduction presentation next month. Members said Tuesday they would like to have a recommendation presented to La Plata County commissioners early this summer.