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Reintroducing the Gray Wolf to Colorado

Groups hoping to reintroduce the gray wolf to Colorado are eying the possibility under a new governor, Jared Polis, who, it seems, is more likely to support it, despite resolutions to the contrary by the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Natural migration, rather than a forced reintroduction, may be the issue rural and metropolitan Colorado can agree upon.

Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, said gray wolves reintroduced into some of the states to the north have quickly grown in numbers and have caused extensive livestock depredation.

Gray wolf breeding pairs that were reintroduced in the West in years past reached population objectives set by the Department of Fish and Wildlife very quickly due to their high survivability and multiple offspring. For all intents and purposes, Fankhauser said, gray wolves are recovered.

When it comes to the reintroduction being proposed by a handful of groups, Fankhauser said the legalities make it unlikely. Colorado has a remnant population of wolves, migratory from other states, and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Colorado has a migratory wolf plan, essentially stating that until a management plan can be enacted, they are protected.

The Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, and the Ted Turner Foundation have been active and vocal about their intent to lobby for the reintroduction of wolves into the state. Some of the groups have hosted meetings to gain attention and fund raise though Fankhauser said others’ interests, ranchers or otherwise that might be contrarian to those groups, haven’t been a part of the dialogue.

Fankhauser said it is difficult for states, be it through a ballot initiative or legislation, to act autonomously in terms of endangered species. Wolves are federally listed, have a large geographic range needed to support them, and would have a potentially significant effect on wildlife populations in surrounding states, including the Mexican wolf.

What scares ranchers

“We’re confident the federal government, the Fish and Wildlife service, would have to approve wolf reintroduction into Colorado,” he said.

Especially in the shadow of a mountain lion attack on a jogger on Feb. 4, 2019, the wilderness habitat necessary to support wolves without encroachment on residential areas is a major factor in the discussion.

“If you put that population of wolves in Colorado, they’re going to be like mountain lions in L.A.,” he said. “You’re going to see wolves in Arvada’s parks because they’re going to habituate the metropolitan area.”

The collision of wildlife and population through a lack of adequate habitat is, Fankhauser said, one of the most compelling scientific reasons the Parks and Wildlife Department has cited condemning the reintroduction of wolves. There is a resolution from 2016 and two earlier resolutions from 1982 and 1989, citing the department’s position against the reintroduction the gray or Mexican wolf. The resolution cites Colorado not being historic range of the Mexican wolf, the surpassing of recovery goals for wolf populations, and the federal recovery plans excluding Colorado.

The resolution acknowledges the migration of wolves into the state and their management but also makes mention of the expensive investment in existing wildlife populations, the economic importance of the livestock industry, and that both of these would be in conflict with wolf reintroduction.

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