Mulhall column: The conceit of the majority
Wolf Reintroduction — the darling cause of Colorado’s 2020 election — once again proves that without blinking an eye, Coloradans — and by extension ethnically homogenous Americans — trample rough shod over the rights of Native peoples.
But don’t take my word for it.
In a letter to Carrie Besnette Hauser, Chairwoman of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Melvin Baker says that “restoration of the gray wolf would present an unacceptable risk to our hunting resources.”
“Hunting resources?” some might ask. “Let them buy meat at the grocery store like everyone else.”
How Marie Antoinette.
But there’s more to it. You see, when we passed Proposition 114, we rendered the hunting provision in the 1874 Brunot Agreement pointless.
The Brunot what?
Exactly. I confess I didn’t give the Brunot Agreement even the least little thought when I voted on Proposition 114.
While I had heard of it, I had to look the Brunot Agreement up to see exactly what it said. Turns out the Brunot Agreement sets forth, among other things, that in exchange for selling much of their southern Colorado reservation land to the US Government in 1874, the Utes would have hunting rights on that land “so long as the game lasts and the Indians are at peace with the white people.”
Or, at least until a few years after the voters of Colorado passed Proposition 114.
According to Chairman Baker, additional pressure from wolves will drive down elk populations and reduce tribal hunting opportunities.
Moreover, any attempts to manage wolf population will not occur for many years — after, according to the Draft Reintroduction Plan, wolves have achieved some number sufficient to remove them from the Endangered Species List.
What Chairman Baker and the Southern Utes recognize is an inverse relationship between ungulate (moose, elk, and deer) and wolf populations — dramatically inverse if you study ungulate populations in nearby states that have reintroduced wolves.
Chairman Baker suggests that CPW reintroduce wolves only in the northern zone, an area roughly defined by the Wyoming border, Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Vail, and not in the southern zone, which centers around Gunnison and encompasses areas around Montrose, Ouray and Silverton. Parts of the southern zone overlap sections of the reservation land the Utes sold to the U.S. in the Brunot Agreement.
Undoubtedly, Chairman Baker knows wolves will go where the food is. When wolves reduce elk herds to slim pick’ns in the northern zone, they will move. But it never hurts to ask, even if it’s only delaying the inevitable.
The impacts of wolf reintroduction on elk herds is enough of a concern that Chairman Baker asks that any reduction of hunting licenses to compensate for predation losses be born by non-Native hunters, which is to say Colorado residents and non-resident U.S. citizens.
Seems to me that this is only fair. Colorado voters passed Proposition 114. Perhaps taking the hunting license hit is the least we can do.
To be fair, Front Range Coloradans carried the wolf reintroduction vote over the passage line. It’s too broad a generality to say that most Front Range voters don’t hunt, though neither is it a stretch.
However, you can geographically characterize hunting interest in Colorado, passing Proposition 114 dishonored the Brunot Agreement’s hunting provision, and that’s the bottom line.
In a few years, after the wolves have become commonplace in many parts of western Colorado, a conversation about hunting might go something like this:
“So, how’s the elk hunting in these parts?”
“Well, you can hunt here. You just won’t shoot anything.”
“I beg your pardon. I’m a damn good shot.”
“Maybe so, but you can’t shoot what you can’t find.”
Perhaps we didn’t intentionally renege on the Brunot Agreement — after all, Proposition 114 did not mention it, even if in an honest disclosure it might have.
The conceit of the majority is that fairness rules, even when it renders the honor of a century-old agreement meaningless.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father, and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.
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