Wolf advocates pressing for animals' return

Supporters point to polls in urging state to foster plan

By Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News

Wolf advocates say they are not willing to wait 100 years for the animals to return to Colorado on their own and will begin pushing the state to find a way to bring them back.

They want the state Division of Wildlife to develop a wolf recovery plan similar to the one the division embarked on six years ago with the Canada lynx.

The state’s Wolf Management Working Group – made up of ranchers, environmentalists, sportsmen, biologists and government officials – is equipped to shape a wolf plan representing all sides of the issue, say supporters of reintroduction.

Rob Edward, of Sinapu, a Boulder-based group that advocates reintroduction of wolves, and a member of the state working group, said the panel provides an ideal forum to address the conflicting views on the wolf – a romantic symbol of the West’s wildness to some and a scourge to livestock to others.

The group agreed in January that wolves would be tolerated in Colorado if they naturally wander in from adjacent states – as long as they don’t kill livestock or cause major trouble.

But, Edwards said, “It’s fairly obvious there won’t be any viable, self-sustaining packs in Colorado for the next 100 years if we wait for them to wander in.”

“Throughout our group discussions, we have been asking the state for a recovery plan that should include reintroductions, but most of the working group rebuked us and now it’s time the state faces up to the wishes of the people,” he said.

Edwards was referring to two public opinion polls, one conducted in 1994 by Colorado State University that indicated 70.8 percent of 1,452 respondents favored the return of wolves, and another study in 2001 by Decision Research that showed 68 percent in Colorado in favor.

“The environmentalists on the committee have been up front about wanting to see wolves everywhere in Colorado,” said Jean Stetson, a Craig rancher and wolf management group member who co-chairs the endangered species committee of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “And we’ve remained up front in saying we don’t want any wolves.”

Last Tuesday, Stetson and another working group member, Les Hampton, reported to the Moffat County commissioners in Craig that there is concern over the possibility that Rocky Mountain National Park will release wolves to help cull its burgeoning elk herd.

Wolves are one of many alternatives being considered to reduce the size of the herd, which park officials say is destroying vegetation in the park.

Stetson said despite assurances that the National Park Service would recapture or destroy any wolves that left the park boundaries, there would be no way to keep them from heading into neighboring areas. Destroying them would create a public backlash as well as be unfair to the wolves, she said.

Stetson said there already is enough concern over wolves migrating into the state on their own. She said there are reports of wolves killing livestock near Farson, Wyo., 140 miles north of Craig.

Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele wrote a letter to Bruce McCloskey, director of the state wildlife division, saying the county continues to support the working group in preparing a long-term management plan in the event wolves take up residency in the state.

Steele urged McCloskey to allow the process to continue and not allow “outside influences, external political efforts or special interests to alter, redirect or destroy this process.”

Edwards agreed it would be best for the state to take the lead to ensure that everyone has a chance to influence Colorado policy.

However, if the state declines, he said advocates are ready to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to include Colorado in a recovery area that would require reintroductions.

If that fails, he said, the last resort would be for groups to take to the streets to collect signatures to put a ballot initiative before voters calling for reintroduction.

The Secretary of State’s Office said it would take 67,829 signatures to qualify a ballot issue.


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