Living in Colorado sometimes feels like playing a game called Let’s Discover The Limits of Democracy. We approach every election with ballot propositions as a contest to see whether the will of the people will outstrip its reason. It is possible we vote on too many things. The people have been wise with many, although it only takes one big one, as the United Kingdom demonstrated in 2016 with Brexit, to suspect they are also easily mistaken.
Should gray wolves be introduced in Colorado? There are people who say, since they were here once before and from time immemorial, they should be re-introduced, but as there was never a proper introduction, that is what is on the table. It is an almost completely different question than, say, should the people of Colorado be able to vote on bringing wolves back here to make their way as immigrants from our past, asylum-seekers in a world made over by nothing more or less than the human capacity to rearrange it?
“Could Colorado Bring Back Gray Wolves By Popular Demand?” asked a story by Ali Budner from public radio’s Mountain West News Bureau last week. It was just the right headline. Budner spoke with people from the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, which is trying to get wolves on the 2020 state ballot, “yes” or “no.” Working on the campaign is Delia Malone, an activist from outside Carbondale. Malone is the wildlife team chair of the Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club and has written columns and letters published in the Herald that support wolves. They or the idea of them are treated unfairly by ranchers and others, she says.
So to the ballot they aim. We can see why wolf advocates want to play it this way. The measure could be carried statewide by strong majorities in the Front Range alone who think they are being asked whether they enjoy seeing wolves and imagine possibly having the chance to pet one in their yards. It is sort of like asking people in the U.K. if they would like to tell the European Union to sod off, but with fur and other benefits.
We believe it is possible that some people – some farmers and ranchers – could be taught to co-exist with big predators, if they saw the value in restoring ecosystems; but that will not happen because four-fifths of Boulder voters say “yes!” to wolves. The right thing to do, if wildlife management must be a ballot referendum, is to limit the question to voters most connected to the issue, perhaps in Colorado’s Third Congressional District – but that may not get the result the sponsors desire.
Fortunately, the ballot language says it would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission, “after holding statewide hearings and using scientific data, to implement a plan to restore and manage gray wolves.”
At least there will be a hearing. It comes after the vote, which is backward, but you cannot have everything.
If we sound uneasy about all this, we are. If the wolf measure made the 2020 ballot and passed, we might not hear the padding of cubs’ feet in the high country before 2022 or 2023, perhaps 2024 before a new pack is successfully established in Colorado. In an age of impending climate doom, the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is being remarkably optimistic.
Yet we commend that. Because asking whether we should reintroduce wolves in 2020 is like putting a question on the ballot that says, Does it make sense to bring children into a dying world? If you staged the mother of all referendums and asked the human race, the answer, until the last dying day, will be “yes.”