Is Colorado really serious about Wolf recovery and conservation ?
Updated: Jan 17
By Staci-lee Sherwood
Before the wolves have even gotten to Colorado the hunters and ranchers are already planning the hunting season, and the excuses to justify it. Is Colorado just bringing back wolves to be hunted? What is the reasoning to even consider a hunt before they even arrive? Gov. Jared Polis likes to portray himself as pro wildlife but this might be more about appeasing his husband, an animal lover, than supporting real conservation policies.
Much of Colorado’s wild land is fast being leased to mining and drilling exploration. This would seem to fly in the face of preserving wild animals that would need that same land and water to survive. Colorado still has plenty of wilderness where wolves can thrive in their ancestral native habitat. This would not impede agriculture or recreation since Colorado is a big state. The draft plan the state came up with is a start but falls short if recovery is the goal.
Voters asked for wolves
In November 2020 voters approved Proposition 114 which was a ballot initiative that requires the state agency, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, to begin reintroducing wolves no later than December 2023. The initial reintroductions will be west of the Continental Divide with a 60-mile buffer from other states and tribal lands as a requirement.
Wolves currently have federal protection but under the draft plan, Wolf Restoration and Management Plan, the state would remove their protection after only two years of having 150 animals. As someone who has worked with wildlife and in particular endangered species I know how the government prefers to lowball the threshold needed to meet before a species is declared ‘recovered’. The opposite needs to happen where the number of animals must be higher and length of time longer otherwise this will not have the intended results, if recovery is what the state wants.
A healthy self sustaining population would need upwards of 750 wolves, the state plan for capping population at 150 falls short of what science indicates is needed. The plan calls for 30 – 50 wolves to be released slowly over five years. That is an illogical unsustainable plan unless you want this to fail after making a lukewarm attempt at conservation just to appease voters.
The good and bad
If this were back in the 1990s when the first wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park this draft plan wouldn’t be as bad for wolves as it is today. No sooner did wolves lose their Endangered Species protection than hunts with unlimited killing started. In just the past couple of years the national wolf population has plummeted mostly due to hunting in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Therefore any plan in any state must take into consideration the national population and threats when drawing conclusions about sustainability. Animals do not know or respect human boundaries.
“Releases will occur on state or private lands,” the draft plan said. “CPW will attempt to select areas that are likely to promote successful wolf recolonization, while also considering the potential for livestock or human conflict. Specific release locations will not be made public in this plan in order to protect private landowner information and sensitive species locations, but targeted outreach will occur with potentially affected stakeholders prior to release.”
Under the CPW’s draft plan ‘action upon conclusion’ at Phase 3 wolves could be Consider reclassifying to game species. This is the language that could lead to hunts as opposed to just allowing lethal force when defending livestock.
The state draft plan has some good points but has a long way to go for true long term sustainability.
The Colorado Parks & Wildlife Draft Plan:
Caps the population at a low 150 wolves
Preferred release sites are on private and state land with ‘willing’ owners, not federal land where they should be released
CPW makes a claim they lack the funds and time to go through a NEPA process but wolf reintroduction has already been done successfully elsewhere, so the process should only take a few months. They have had 2 years to get this done
At Phase 2 removes Endangered Species status for a weaker Threatened Status after 2 years
At Phase 3 allows for classifying wolves as nongame and possibly allows hunting
Allows for broader use of lethal management
Allows for wolves to be killed on protected public lands
Click here to read the full state CPW draft plan
A better option for real sustainable recovery is offered by Wildearth Guardians and other environmental groups.
The Colorado Wolf Restoration Plan :
Identifies 12 wilderness areas that would be prime habitat for wolves
Suggests a population closer to 1000 wolves to help ensure genetic diversity needed for long term sustainability
Prioritizes nonlethal methods to be used in conflict
Limits lethal use of force except in extreme cases
Where there are known resident wolves the area will be designated an “Area of Known Wolf Activity” with CPW working with ranchers on nonlethal management, proper documentation of wolf predation and conservation.
Public access to all determinations about relocation, predation and management methods used
Copy & Paste the link to read the full Colorado Wolf Restoration Plan
Stakeholder Advisory Group
Looking at the members chosen to be on the advisory board a few things stand out. It’s heavy of the hunter and rancher side and pretty thin on the animal welfare side. The two environmental groups listed, Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Federation are both pro hunting. Out of the 19 members only 2 don’t have hunting, ranching, animal captivity or agriculture listed as either a pass time or part of their job. It does seem odd for a group of people deciding when/where and how wolves will be reintroduced mostly come from industries hostile to wolves. Shouldn’t an advisory board be made up of those wanting wolves to come back and thrive?
Growing up ranching and hunting will absolutely affect the lens one looks through to make decisions. We humans are not able to distance ourselves from childhood rearing that places animals in the category of commodity.
Read through the backgrounds of the advisory board listed below. The ‘highlighted’ words help you see how slanted the board is toward hunting and ranching. The (*) denotes how both environmental groups support hunting as well. There were many other large environmental and animal welfare groups they could have chosen from but they chose two pro hunting organizations instead.
Matt Barnes is a range scientist Matt ran a cattle grazing operation in western Colorado; served as President of the Colorado Section Society for Range Management; and served as a rangeland management specialist in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, a prescribed fire manager with the USDI Bureau of Indian Affairs Branch of Forestry, serving five tribes in northwest-central Arizona; and as a grizzly bear technician for Idaho Fish and Game.
Donald Broom is serving his first term as a Moffat County Commissioner. He manages Sombrero Ranches where he oversees the nation’s largest herd of broke horses, supplying riding stables, movie scenes and outfitters with ridable livestock. His background covers agriculture, economic development and tourism.
Bob Chastain is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s President
Renee Deal is a fourth generation rancher with a degree in Chemical Engineering and worked as a biomedical engineer
Adam Gall lives in Hotchkiss, CO and operate Timber to Table Guide Service and Dark Timber Outfitters, guiding elk hunts enjoys fly fishing, chasing elk with a bow,
Dan Gates A lifelong Sportsmen (a.k.a hunter), Chair of the Colorado Habitat Stamp Committee, sits on the Colorado Wildlife Council, the Colorado Outdoor Partnership Executive Council and many other working groups. For three decades he assisted in addressing a variety of Wildlife concerns and conflicts. His family owned business works with many sectors including Public Utilities, Water Resources, Agricultural Production, Human Health & Safety, Defense Department, Transportation, Recreation, Aviation and other Commercial, Industrial, and Residential Customers
John Howard fishes and hunts small game, waterfowl, and big game in Colorado. Former Chairman of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission.
Francie Jacober has lived in Colorado since 1965 when she first attended the University of Colorado. She has ranched with her family and taught middle school math, science, Spanish, and literature. Her passions are respecting the natural environment, gardening, anything math, river running, and her family
Lenny Klinglesmith is a second-generation rancher and landowner, worked side-by-side with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Colorado Cattleman’s Ag Land Trust, Habitat Partnership Program, and others to conserve land for wildlife and agriculture.
Darlene Kobobel Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.
Tom Kourlis is a respected sheep and cattle rancher and statewide leader in Colorado. Tom served as Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, was Woolgrower of the Year, been inducted into the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fam Tom believes we have a responsibility to manage natural resources in perpetuity for the benefit of the citizens of Colorado.
*Brian Kurzel is the Rocky Mountain Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). They do support hunting. From their website ‘For over 80 years, we've been the driving force behind critical pieces of conservation legislation supporting our ability to hunt and fish.’
Hallie Mahowald as programs director for the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA), a landowner-led non-profit advancing policies and practices to sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species, Hallie manages people and strategy to support stewardship across the American West.
*Jonathan Proctor is the Rockies and Plains Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife. They do support hunting, even wolf hunting.
Gary Skiba worked as a wildlife biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife currently the Wildlife Program Manager for the San Juan Citizens Alliance and duck hunter.
Steve Whiteman is in charge of wildlife resource management on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in southwestern Colorado. Participates on the Tribal Working Group for the federal Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. He is also well-versed on Native American sovereignty, treaty-reserved off-reservation hunting rights, and Ute Indian history.
Jennifer Burbey is the Colorado Outfitters Association President. Outfitters provide gear for hunters.
Executive Director, Dan Gibbs leads the development and execution of the Department’s initiatives for the balanced management of the state’s natural resources. Dan works on issues pertaining to Colorado’s natural resources, including water, wildlife, state lands, oil and gas, mining and hunting .
Kate Greenberg was appointed the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture worked with hundreds of farmers and ranchers, and have been a fierce advocate for family agriculture.
Even old allies see wolf conservation differently
When it comes to stewardship of the land and the species that live on it most of the public assume Native Americans would be better stewards. For the most part that’s true, their connection and respect typically run deeper than those in power coming from European heritage. When it comes to wolves, support and policy vary among the tribes. Some are all in for full legal protection while others support organic re-homing by wolves but not human re-introduction. Still other tribes follow the US government and support hunting wolves.
Click hear to get a better understanding of tribal views on wolf reintroduction https://www.realitycheckswithstacilee.com/post/it-s-a-watershed-moment-for-brother-wolf-and-native-americans
So where does that leave the wolves?
Are they coming into a welcoming state or one that is ready to kill them for a myriad of excuses. Unless the draft plan is updated with truer conservation policies and goals this will likely fail. We need wolves, the ecosystem is not balanced or healthy without them. We do not need to kill them.
For one thing the false notion they would overpopulate is aimed toward public acceptance of killing them. With overhunting much of their food source like deer, elk and pronghorns it seems highly improbable they would over breed since breeding is correlated to available food supply. Furthermore the land and water is pretty polluted from all the mining and livestock so that will also cut down population with disease of both the wolves and their prey food. Let’s not forget poaching. One must question why putting a federally protected species on state and private land is even a consideration. The draft plan almost seems designed to fail.
The anti wolf lobby will stop at nothing to destroy this plan. Going so far as to gaslight the public with lies. This involves government officials as much as the public. As reported in Steamboat Pilot & Today news site on June 15, 2021 "A senior Colorado Parks and Wildlife manager has been reinstated after a 12-week investigation into a whistleblower’s allegations that the manager tried to sabotage the voter-directed reintroduction of wolves — using tactics including hiring an outside group to post videos on YouTube and Facebook targeting pro-wolf state commissioners."
"Documents and recordings reviewed by The Denver Post show CPW officials based on the Western Slope working to subvert voters’ directive to bring back wolves. Agency directors prohibited Romatzke and other regional agency officials from talking with media before the 2020 election — including The Denver Post." I think we can see how this will play out. Click here to read more
We forge ahead in 2023 hoping Colorado is serious about conservation in action not just press releases.
To learn more about the plan click here
To make a comment click here for the form. Comments due before February 22, 2023
A shorter version was published on Pagosa Daily Post January 17. 2023