Whiting column: There’s more to the wolf vote than wolves
The voting process was designed to assure citizens have a voice in decisions which directly affect their lives. Political leaders and taxes come to mind. Wolves are not one of them.
The impetus for wolf introduction comes from two sources: people and scientists. Most people are well-intentioned, but don’t realize the consequences, haven’t experienced wolves in the wild and aren’t directly affected. Many scientists are motivated to develop and maintain their career.
“Wolves, wouldn’t that be nice” is a common response among those who haven’t considered the consequences. Most realize cattle, sheep, horses will be killed and ranchers will be compensated, but that isn’t the total picture. Empathy is lacking. It’s not only having animals they raised, cared for killed, it’s animals they know. Wolves don’t ask first. The attack and result is not a pretty picture; one most would not want their children to witness.
Wildlife population will be significantly affected. Advocates state Wyoming and Montana elk populations haven’t decreased. That may be true statewide, but in the western half of both states, into which Yellowstone wolves have expanded, elk, deer and moose population have dropped precipitously. Fish & Wildlife service: Wyoming mule deer population has decreased 52% in the Yellowstone Northern Range ecosystem. Journal of Wildlife Management: Yellowstone Northern Range has seen the elk population go from 23,000 in 1988 to 8,300 in 2004 and 5,800 in 2019.
Growing up in Cody, Wyoming we saw moose every day from the road. In the wilderness on horseback, moose were so common-place as to be a nuisance. The trail to our camp on Jones Creek, went through “Sam Berry Meadows.” Moose were so prevalent, we dismounted and led our horses through to minimize the chance a moose would decide our horses were a rival or potential “date.” Moose hunting was a one-day event. Today, you’re lucky to see one in a whole summer/fall season. In the past five years we have spent over 20 days in Yellowstone, on the trail, away from roads. Number of moose seen: one. The past two years, my son and I have spent 14 days bow hunting elk outside Yellowstone, four to five hours from the nearest road: one.
Advocates say the Yellowstone Northern Range was overgrazed by elk. That’s just not true. Before wolves, one could ride through meadows where the grass would touch your stirrups. The massive fires of 1988 (over 800,000 acres) only served to multiply the acres of grass available to elk.
If additional wolves are introduced to Colorado, it’s reasonable to expect similar wildlife reductions. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will see their successful attempt to establish a moose population derailed. The decreasing elk and deer populations in the Roaring Fork Valley and western Colorado are already well documented as a result of habitat, people and climate issues. These issues are only going to increase, magnifying the need to protect current populations from a wolf pack.
Colorado’s hunting reputation has already decreased. When we need to recover from the negative economic effects of COVID and less oil/gas, reducing the number of non-resident hunters doesn’t help. We should be protecting, not eliminating, jobs.
Lack of wilderness habitat is another problem. Colorado wilderness is in small chunks when compared with Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. We have 3.5 million acres of wilderness in 40 areas averaging 80,000 acres in size. Only two are over 100,000 acres. Wyoming has 3.5 million acres in 15 areas averaging 220,000 acres, two over 500,000 and one over 700,000 acres. Montana has 6.4 million acres, averaging 400,000 with two over 900,000. Idaho’s numbers are even larger. In Wyoming, there are places that are over 20 miles, as the crow flies, from the nearest 4-wheel drive road. To get there it’s over 75 trail miles. Nothing approaches that in Colorado. Yellowstone ecosystem is 22 million acres, Colorado is 66 million acres; you do the math.
Advocates say use Rocky Mountain National Park. They don’t realize RMNP is 12% the size of Yellowstone, 5% the size of the Yellowstone wilderness ecosystem. Plus, wolves won’t stay there. As a pack breeds, the young males, if they want to live, go off to form their own pack. Wolf packs don’t share territory. That’s why Yellowstone wolves populate Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and now Colorado.
Lack of space means they will be in our populated areas, because elk are there. Towns like Evergreen, Estes Park, and all the western slope have elk around all year and concentrated in the winter. Wolves go where the food is. There isn’t winter food in the high mountain peaks.
Safety becomes an issue. They will be on and around the trails we hike, bike and cross country. The days of taking your dog for a run outside of town will be over. There’s a reason you can’t take your dog or your bike on the trails of Yellowstone. Your dog is either a threat or a meal. Running, biking or skiing on a trail makes you prey. Trails are already periodically closed because of bears, cougars which tend to be singular animals. Wolves are pack animals. Think about taking your two children on a hike or cross-country skiing.
Thankfully, attacks by wolves are rare, but they do occur. A man was dragged out of his tent in Banff last summer. Compressing wolves into smaller, human intensive areas increases the odds. Many like to ride horses. Imagine your horse’s reaction to a pack of wolves. I can tell you from personal experience it isn’t, “oh, look nice dogey.” Unless you ride your horse in a barn, you will encounter wolves.
The biggest problem, however, is fairness. Recently, there has been increased focus on equity and injustice. Allowing the entire state to vote on wolves when it will only affect a small percentage of the population is not equity, it’s injustice. It’s discriminating against our way of life. Most living in the Front Range world of concrete, not only don’t, but can’t put themselves in our position. Would it be fair for the Western Slope to require introducing grizzlies in Denver? Grizzlies used to inhabit the front range prairie. They would laugh because that’s not realistic, but it’s the same with us and wolves. It’s not ethical or moral. They aren’t the ones going to have to live with the decision. One can’t fight injustice in one area and not another. You either believe in equity or you don’t.
It’s our personal responsibility consider those who will be affected when we vote.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I wrote this column to share my story through my cultural assets: Aspirational, linguistic, familial, navigational, social, and resistant. I know we all have an open wound in our lives and I want to share…