A Forced Reintroduction of Wolves Dangerous for Colorado’s Conservation Efforts
Efforts to force the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado have been gaining momentum with little consideration for the economic or ecological impact. The issue has secured enough signatures to be on the ballot on November 3rd. However, groups like Safari Club International and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are fighting back by emphasizing the negative impact forcibly reintroducing wolves to Colorado’s landscape would have on broader conservation efforts throughout the state.
The ballot measure would require the Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) Commission to develop a plan for reintroducing gray wolves on the state’s western slope by the end of 2023 – a severely expedited timeframe for a project that will negatively affect wildlife and waste taxpayer dollars for years to come. For comparison, CPW conducted research for a decade before actually putting any moose on the ground as part of a reintroduction project in 1978.
This initiative sets a troubling precedent for entrusting wildlife management decisions more heavily to public opinion than biological expertise. Wildlife management through the ballot box has already cost Coloradoans their spring bear hunting season, and it could soon threaten some of the best elk and mule deer hunting opportunities in the world. An artificial introduction of an apex predator into an ecosystem that has been void of wolves for more than a century would likely diminish the abundance of deer and elk, potentially limiting hunting opportunities, which could, in turn, inhibit the almost $100 million generated for conservation efforts each year through the sale of hunting licenses.
Earlier this year, CPW confirmed the presence of a wolf pack in the northwest corner of the state, indicating that further natural expansion into the state is likely. The state is prepared for such natural expansion, with CPW having developed a management plan in 2010 for migratory wolves passing through the state. The forced reintroduction of wolves would cost Colorado taxpayers an estimated $6 million to expedite something that is already occurring naturally.
The supporters of this idea have yet to offer any financial solutions for further funding their proposed efforts. They have yet to address the economic costs of ongoing wolf management, livestock depredation, research, or other expenses that will likely need to be diverted from other conservation projects throughout the state.
Further complicating things are federal Endangered Species Act implications, considering gray wolves have yet to be delisted despite exceeding population goals laid out recovery plans for specific areas. This issue is driven by the same emotional rhetoric behind the idea of forced reintroduction. Neighboring states are also home to Mexican wolves, a listed subspecies of wolf that could crossbreed or hybridize with the northern gray wolves being introduced.
Colorado state law prohibits state employees from commenting once an issue has been brought to a ballot measure, meaning the very same experts employed by CPW to research and implement wolf management policies are unable to weigh in, effectively silencing their voice in favor of the general public who is far less informed about the ecological and economic consequences of a decision of this magnitude.
Wildlife management decisions should be left in the hands of the professionals trained to develop management plans based on the best available science. While the voice of the public certainly has a role in wildlife management, public opinion should not be the sole consideration driving conservation policies. SCI will continue fighting to make sure the state of Colorado is not forced to devote millions of dollars that could be utilized for more pressing conservation needs simply to expedite an ecological process that is already occurring naturally.