Visitors provide differing opinions on wolf restoration during open house in Glenwood Springs
Colorado voters made it clear they want wolves reintroduced to the state by 2023, but what will be the results of that initiative?
It depends on who you ask, given the variety of opinions and answers at a recent wolf restoration and management plan open house in Glenwood Springs on Tuesday.
The measure to reintroduce gray wolves to former habitats west of the Continental Divide in Colorado had passed in the state by a slim 50.4% to 49.6% margin. In Garfield County, however, the measure was voted down 63.3% to 36.7%.
But with its passage, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is tasked with creating a sustainable plan to ensure wolf survival and “paws on the ground” by 2023. But one major contention to this new measure — which both sides of the issue should acknowledge — is that the results were skewed in favor of the Front Range voter.
This makes education integral to the process, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission Chair Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser said during Tuesday’s open house at Colorado Mountain College.
“This isn’t done to the Western Slope, it’s done with the Western Slope,” she said. “Because that is likely the area of the state where wolves will be introduced.”
With large displays of wolf facts and tidbits spread about the room and Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials and officers available to answer any questions, the open house attracted a wide assortment of opponents and proponents of Proposition 114. Attendees ranged from Denver-based animal rights activists to Garfield County ranchers.
“I think the really important thing is, OK, (Proposition 114) is happening, and it’s very important to make sure that we engage the folks that are going to be impacted, that live on the Western Slope, that live in these communities,” Hauser said. “And you’re going to see a number of folks here that I recognize that run ranching operations or they might be outfitters or whatever, and to make sure that they’re part of the conversation and that they have an opportunity to have input.”
Carbondale rancher Tom Harrington has been tending cattle and livestock for 40 years. He’s concerned wolf restoration will have a negative impact on livestock operations.
“Maintaining your herd, where you put them, keeping them dispersed and grazing the pastures properly, weight gain on the calves — they’re going to be stressed,” he said. “So reproduction will go down, performance will go down, not even mentioned, you know, the actual losses.”
Harrington said ranchers can take some steps to help mitigate wolf impacts and predation, but their options are slim.
“We’re stretched pretty thin as it is right now,” he said. “To add any of that stuff just takes away from the small margins that we already have.”
Harrington said some proponents of wolf restoration might not realize all the potential impacts wolves could have on cattle.
“(It affects) reproduction, because they’re stressed, and the bulls aren’t able to cover the cows, or they just simply won’t cycle and reproduce, so then next year they don’t have a calf,” he said. “So there is no value to them at that point. And then the physical losses of the genetics that you work for generations to build in your herd — the performance. And, in our area, adapting to the altitude … that’s a big deal.”
Front Range resident Debra Taylor, a proponent of Proposition 114 who came to Glenwood Springs for the open house, highlighted the importance of predation and its effect on the environment.
Taylor, a retired medical and public research librarian, said encephalopathies — diseases carried out by outside agents or conditions that affect a brain — are rising. In other words, she feels that these diseases can be transmitted easier to cattle without the presence of predators like wolves.
“It’ll jump from elk and deer to cattle, especially with elk and deer drooling their chronic wasting disease and cattle ranches and getting into their feed and all that,” she said. “I really believe that if (experts) would have collected the numbers of the animals in Yellowstone National Park — if they’d had done a study on those animals that the wolves had brought down — I’m sure they’d found a good percentage have sicknesses. … So I think predators are vitally important.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has scheduled throughout the summer in Colorado 12 more public open houses, which will be for the next five to six weeks.
For a list of all open houses or a wide variety of wolf information, visit WolfEngagementCO.org.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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