Monthly Archives: January 2006

The Case for Wolves

Wolves testing bison in Yellowstone.The last wild wolf in the Southern Rockies was killed in southern Colorado in 1945. That event marked the end of a 70-year war on wolves in the region — a war won only after Congress dedicated an entire federal agency to the task of wolf eradication.

Notably, the fact that it took such a concerted effort to extirpate wolves from the region bodes well for the effort to return these top-level carnivores to their critical role in the wild.

Sinapu is dedicated to raising public awareness of the critical role that predators, especially wolves, play in the wild. Our education and outreach programs reach many thousands of adults and children each year. As public awareness about the myths and realities of wolves grows, so to does support for wolf restoration. In fact, a recent independent survey of voters in the region showed that two-thirds of them support reintroducing wolves to the Southern Rockies (click here for more information).

Today, we are more committed than ever to building the constituency for wolves within communities traditionally considered hostile to predators — and we’re gaining ground. Both through our rural outreach programs, and through promotion of “Predator Friendly” ranching techniques, we’re bridging the gap between ranchers and wolf huggers.
The Big Ripple

What do wolves have to do with Aspen trees? To find out, dowload a copy of this groundbreaking report from University of Oregon professor William Ripple by clicking here.


The Case for Black Bears

The black bear is the only bruin species left in significant numbers in the continental United States. Hunted heavily in the 1800s and early 1900s, efforts to conserve the species only began in recent decades. As a result of these efforts, today there are more black bears in the U.S. than there were 50 years ago.

Not surprisingly, habitat fragmentation and suburban sprawl pose the greatest threats to long-term conservation of large mammals. As more people move into the West and build in once pristine areas, the chances for conflicts between bears and people increase. Thus, we must protect large, intact corridors of habitat for bears and other large carnivores. Further, people who live or recreate in bear country should learn to avoid or eliminate potential human-bear conflicts.

Compounding the problems of habitat fragmentation and human encroachment, sport hunting could threaten long-term bear conservation in Colorado (see chart). Many bears are killed by hunters in Colorado and the West annually, although states have limited empirical data on bear population sizes for use in setting science-based hunting quotas.

Chart of bear mortalityColorado’s black bear population is one of the state’s most precious resources. Sinapu will continue our efforts to inform the public about safely living and recreating in bear country. Likewise, we will work to watchdog wildlife management and hunting policies related to black bears and their habitat in the region.

Carbondale audience sinks teeth into wolf issue

By Dennis Webb
Post Independent Staff
January 19, 2006

CARBONDALE — A wolf reintroduction advocate and a Carbondale rancher agreed 100 percent on one thing Wednesday night: The animal would fare well if reintroduced to Colorado.

But Rob Edward, of Sinapu, and Bill Fales, a Carbondale-area rancher, differ on what impacts reintroduction would have on ranching in Colorado.

Edward gave a slide show on wolf reintroduction to a standing-room-only crowd of perhaps 100 people at Dos Gringos in Carbondale Wednesday, in an event put on by the Wilderness Workshop. Most who attended seemed to be fans of wolves, leaving Fales a bit of a lone wolf voicing an opposing view on the animal’s reintroduction.

“As much as it thrills a lot of people, it scares the hell out of me,” Fales told Edward.

Edward welcomed the feedback and said reintroduction advocates need to engage with opponents if wolves are to be returned to the state successfully.

“Even if you don’t want wolves, be involved,” Edward said.
He also voiced confidence that concerns surrounding wolf reintroduction can be adequately addressed.

“I think we can figure this out. I think we can live with wolves,” he said.

Edward is director of restoration for Sinapu, a Boulder-based group whose name comes from the Ute word for wolf. The group advocates on behalf of restoring wolves, lynx, mountain lions and other predators to their historic ranges.

Wolves historically inhabited most of the continental United States, Edward said. Today, of some 4,000 to 4,500 wolves in the lower 48 states, most are concentrated near the Canadian border in the upper Midwest. Some 800 or 900 are in Yellowstone National Park, Idaho and Montana, and fewer than 50 Mexican gray wolves are in New Mexico and Arizona, Edward said.

He said studies show Colorado has room for more than 1,000 wolves. Four areas look to be suitable for wolf habitat. Two are in southwestern Colorado. Two other areas are closer — the Flat Tops, and the area roughly extending from Grand Mesa to the West Elk Mountains.

Edward said that in 2003, U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton tried to get wolves removed from the endangered species list in much of the United States, despite the fact they occupy only 5 percent of their historic range. Opponents of that plan challenged Norton in court and won two favorable rulings last year.

Now, Edward said, reintroduction advocates can work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “to get more wolves in more places.”

In 2003, 14 Coloradans, including ranchers, hunters, biologists and wolf reintroduction advocates, studied the issue as a committee and decided that if wolves come into the state, they should be allowed to wander freely wherever they find habitat, Edward said. A member of the group, he called its conclusion “amazing,” given that five ranchers were on the panel.

At least one wolf already returned to Colorado on its own, before being hit by a car near Idaho Springs. But Edward believes a concerted reintroduction effort will be required if the animals are to be re-established in the state.

Citing research in Yellowstone, he believes wolves can lead to important improvements to ecosystems. There, the arrival of the animals caused a drop in coyote numbers, and enabled willows, aspen and other vegetation to recover because animals that once grazed certain areas heavily were forced to disperse due to hunting by wolves. This has led to improved habitat for other wildlife such as beaver and songbirds, Edward said.

He said wolves can be as instrumental as wildfire in restoring habitats. Fales agreed about the important role wildfire plays, but questioned how much of a place wildfires, or wolves, can have in today’s West.

“People get upset when a fire burns through their house. We get upset when wolves eat our cattle,” he said.

Edward said instances of wolf predation of livestock are rare. Fewer than one in 10,000 livestock are killed by wolves in areas where wolves thrive, he said. More are killed by lightning, he said.

Still, he said, it’s important that ranchers be reimbursed for losses, as groups such as Defenders of Wildlife do.

But Fales questioned how easy it is to document wolf kills for reimbursement purposes. If a rancher finds a suspiciously killed cow in a remote location, by the time someone can be brought in to verify that a wolf was responsible a bear may have finished off the carcass, he said.

Edward said answers to this problem could include paying ranchers for livestock losses that vary from the norm, or paying two or three times the value of livestock for confirmed wolf kills, to make up for other ones that can’t be documented.

Despite his concerns, Fales believes it’s inevitable wolves will return to Colorado. That would probably please most of those at Wednesday’s presentation, including Jamie Gomer, of El Jebel, who came because she was curious about the prospects of the animal returning to Colorado.

“I’m just a big wolf fan,” she said.


The Case for Lynx

With its short tail, long legs, large paws and tufted ears, the Canada lynx is an awe-inspiring wild cat. Yet lynx, native to Colorado’s high country, were extirpated from the state by the early 1970s. Colorado is the southern-most portion of their natural range. Today, a successful effort to restore the lynx is underway in Colorado.

In 1999, the Colorado Division of Wildlife released 41 lynx from Canada into the wild San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Between 2000 and 2004, state wildlife managers released additional lynx, bringing the total number of reintroduced lynx to 167. The Colorado Division of Wildlife plans to release another 50 lynx into the recovery area in spring 2005 and 15 more in 2006 and 2007.

Sinapu supported the state’s program to restore lynx to Colorado, an effort launched in 1999. Since state wildlife managers first began repatriating lynx to Colorado, Sinapu has led the charge to protect the program from mismanagement and legal challenges from radical “property rights” groups.

When political maneuvering threatened to eliminate funding for the lynx reintroduction program, Sinapu rose to the challenge. Leading a diverse coalition of wildlife advocates, we launched a multi-faceted campaign that resulted in the Wildlife Commission receiving hundreds of letters in support of continuing the lynx recovery program. Today, we’re challenging both Wildlife Services and the Forest Service for failing to provide adequate protections for lynx migrating from Colorado into New Mexico. Sinapu’s no-nonsense advocacy efforts, public education work, and litigation to protect the lynx are paying off.

Although making progress in Colorado, lynx still face significant threats. For these reclusive cats, public enemy number one is development and human intrusion into their habitat (oil & gas drilling, ski area expansions, logging, and home-building in mountain areas). Further, lynx also face risks from illegal hunting and trapping.

The people of Colorado and the Colorado Division of Wildlife have much to be proud of in this effort to return these reclusive cats to their ancestral hunting grounds in Colorado. Wildlife biologists and conservationists are cautiously optimistic about the future of the lynx. As of summer 2004, more than 100 lynx roam Colorado and at least 46 kittens have been born in the state. Determined to build upon this success, Sinapu will continue to give a voice to Colorado’s wild lynx for generations to come.

The Case for Cougars

Pumas (also known as mountain lions, cougars, and panthers) are integral to the health of the West’s ecosystems. As a top predator, evidence suggests that pumas are a key species within their ecosystems whose impact is felt far beyond their interaction with prey.

They range across the western United States, generally preferring to live and hunt in habitat that provides ambush opportunities, such as ponderosa parks and red rock canyon country. Wherever there is a deer or elk population, pumas are probably not far away.

Pumas live in expansive “home ranges” because their favorite prey—deer and elk—are spread thinly across the West’s arid landscape. The home range of male cougars often exceeds 100 square miles.

Pumas are secretive. Contact between humans and pumas is quite rare, although more frequent as development shrinks lion habitat in the Southern Rockies.

Because of their reclusive nature, we can only guess how many pumas live in the West. The Colorado Division of Wildlife estimates that up to 3,500 lions inhabit Colorado (though a 10-year scientific study will shed light on this number in the years ahead).

Pumas have only a few offspring (if any) during a year, and kittens face high mortality rates— both factors that contribute to their fragile populations. A mother cat spends 11 to 24 months raising her kittens, yet few cats reach adulthood (even in populations where humans do not hunt them). Thus, lions need protections against over-hunting—especially of females. Equally important to their survival is prevention of continued infringement on their receding habitat.

Sinapu aims to ensure that Colorado and the West are home to a healthy population of pumas—a precious piece of the West’s wild heritage—for generations to come.