The wolves aren’t waiting for Colorado voters
Over the past few years, several wolves have wandered into Colorado from farther north.
According to state wildlife officials, recent activity in Moffat County indicates that a pack of six wolves has chosen to make Colorado their home.
“It is inevitable, based on known wolf behavior, that they would travel here from states where their populations are well established,” said JT Romatzke, manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northwest region.
The pack is just another sign of wolf migration to Colorado. One wolf wandered all the way from the Snake River pack in Yellowstone National Park, and his GPS tracker located him wandering through the Rocky Mountains in 2019.
Tom Gable, project lead for the University of Minnesota’s wolf program at Voyageurs National Park, was not at all surprised that wolves were making their way into Colorado.
“Wolves travel incredible distances, and they seem to do so easily,” Gable said.
Wolves could be coming much faster, if voters approve a reintroduction program.
In November, Coloradans will vote on whether to begin reintroducing wolves into the state starting in 2023.
The initiative’s sponsor, The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, collected 200,000 signatures to get it on the November ballot, and surveys show that two-thirds of Coloradans support a wolf introduction program.
Wolf programs around the Great Lakes and in the northwestern plains have been overwhelmingly successful.
Wolf populations in the northwest, including Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon, have grown so much that the federal government is considering delisting wolves from the Endangered Species List.
As of 2015, there were an estimated 1,657 wolves in 282 packs in the northwest region, and more than 4,200 wolves were counted in the Great Lakes region in 2018.
There are a number of people opposed to bringing wolves to Colorado, including the Garfield County board of commissioners.
The strongest voices against wolf reintroduction are typically farmers and ranchers.
“We do not want to have wolves reintroduced into the state of Colorado for many reasons, one of which is that it would be devastating for the moose, elk and deer populations of our state, not to mention domestic livestock such as cattle and sheep,” Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson said in November.
Across the country, wolves account for about 5% of cattle loss due to predators, according to a 2015 report. Coyotes were far more deadly to bovines, responsible for 40 percent of all cattle deaths from predators.
But in states with growing wolf populations, wolves are a more deadly presence.
In Idaho, wolves were suspected in 60 reported cattle deaths in 2016, according to the Department of Agriculture, but that was half the number of suspected wolf kills in 2007.
According to Gable, wolves will eat what’s available, but don’t always threaten cows.
“We’ve had some wolves that haven’t caused any issues, and they’ve been around where there have been cows and multiple calves,” Gable said.
But, either from hunger or learning it from other predators, if a wolf finds out that cattle are food they will probably come back for more.
“One thing that does seem to be true for wolves that we’ve studied is that once they figure out how to exploit a food source, they keep coming back to that food source,” Gable said. “Wolves are amazing opportunists, and they can find food in all sorts of places, and can take advantage of food in really surprising ways.”
Gable said wolves in Voyageurs National Park have learned to hunt and kill fish, and regularly eat blueberries.
Since lone wolves and packs of wolves appear to be in Colorado, the measure strikes some as unnecessary.
“Just as predicted, wolves are making their way into Colorado on their own. This measure is pointless and will only lead to wasted taxpayer dollars and increased bureaucracy,” said Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau.
“The proponents should let mother nature work its magic, stop trying to impose their will on the natural world, and retract their ballot measure,” Vorthmann said.
The cost of the wolf program in Colorado, if approved, would likely be around $800,000 for the first two years, as state officials conduct public meetings and develop the plan.
But costs of the program will increase substantially when it begins to be implemented, totaling an estimated $6 million over the first 8 years, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimate, obtained via records request by the Stop the Wolf Coalition.
CPW estimates that bringing 45 wolves into the state over five years would cost $4 million, including payments to livestock owners for wolf kills.
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Former Carbondale trustee Katrina Byars said she wants to bring a voice of environmental sustainability to the commission, and believes her opponent has served long enough.