By Josh Boyd
Our nation is founded upon the principle of democracy. This principle safeguards our right to be actively involved in all forms of decision making that pertains to how our government is to function, either through duly elected officials or through an open ballot.
Residents of Colorado will soon be allowed the opportunity to take part in such democratic functions, in the form of a ballot vote, which has far greater ramifications than many might be aware. This fall, Colorado voters will decide the fate of forced wolf reintroduction as it pertains to their state.
Gray wolves, once native to the state, have been absent from the Colorado landscape for more than 70 years. A recent initiative has set the stage to force the reintroduction of these large predators by the year 2023.
Who Is Behind The Initiative?
While you might think that Colorado Parks and Wildlife would be the agency tasked with overseeing such an initiative, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, on the contrary, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have gone on record as being directly opposed to the forced reintroduction of gray wolves in the past.
In 1982, the Colorado Wildlife Commission released a resolution against the reintroduction of wolves. This fact was re-emphasized in 2016 when Colorado Parks and Wildlife again opposed grey wolf reintroduction efforts during a session related to the matter.
Numerous groups that directly oppose state-based wildlife management practices have in fact, driven the Colorado Wolf Ballot Initiative. Such organizations include Defenders of Wildlife, Wild Earth Guardians, and the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, among others.
These groups, as well as others, have shown a repeated propensity for stalling delisting efforts in previous areas of restocking, even long after wolf numbers have grown far beyond predetermined figures that would allow state-controlled management.
No less than 15 lawsuits were filed on behalf of environmental groups, such as those mentioned above, during attempted delisting of wolf populations in the Northern Rockies. This litigation cost state management agencies valuable time, and allowed wolf populations to rapidly expand to a far greater extent than what had previously been dictated.
The Ballot Vote
A democratic voting system requires all parties to be knowledgeable of the issue at hand, before going to the polls, for such a system to operate efficiently. This presents quite the issue for the residents of Colorado, as voters cannot be expected to possess a firm biological understanding of the effects that will be rendered when placing their votes.
Instead of bringing such concerns before a panel made up of career land managers and wildlife biologists, the ballot vote essentially circumvents the statistical data and opinions presented by those that are the most knowledgeable as to what ramifications such stocking efforts would yield.
In reality, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are mandated to refrain from airing their opinions relating to wolf reintroduction efforts. This leads to a dangerous situation, as the voice that is silenced, is the only one that can provide the voting masses with the statistical data needed to make an informed decision.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has spearheaded efforts to inform the public regarding possible consequences of the proposed Colorado wolf reintroduction.
Pertaining to the vote at hand, RMEF president and CEO Kyle Weaver said, “Ballot box biology is reckless. In this particular case, it totally undermines the authority of Colorado’s wildlife professionals who have said time and time again over several decades that a forced wolf introduction is a bad idea.” Weaver continued, “As an organization, RMEF pledges to do all in our power to educate voters about the significant, real-life, detrimental impacts of such an effort.”
Impacts That Voters Should Be Aware Of
Though the reintroduction of once native species might, on the surface, appear to be a positive proposition, the forced release of wolves into the Colorado landscape creates a multitude of concerns that must be addressed.
- Cost To Taxpayers: Though the wolf reintroduction mandate will be brought for a vote this fall, to date, no government funding has been set aside for such efforts. This presents a huge burden for taxpayers to shoulder. Legislative reports show that such an initiative will tally a total financial cost of nearly $6 million by its eighth year. In comparison, Wyoming taxpayers bear a $1.5 million annual tax burden to cover the cost of wolf management and depredation.
- Populations Will Spread: Though the idea of a reintroduced wolf population staying in the singular contained area of their release sounds whimsical, this is simply unfeasible. Wolves are expected to follow the natural movements of their favorite food source, resident elk. As populations expand, wolves will likely begin their transition from the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, into the southern Rockies, eventually leading to their expansion into Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. This makes the reintroduction effort into a multi-state issue.
- Wolf Numbers Will Increase: In 1995, 15 wolves were released in central Idaho. Today, this initial introductory population has grown to numbers more than 1,000 wolves in total. Wolf packs can now be found 600 miles away from their initial central Idaho release point, in Washington, Oregon, and California. If the past is any indicator, Colorado’s wolf numbers will begin to blossom at an alarming rate, within mere years of their reintroduction.
- Elk Numbers Will Likely Decline: It is no secret that wolves cherish elk as one of their favored food sources. The effects of such can often be seen in states where wolf reintroductions take place. In 1988, the North Fork of Clearwater region in Idaho boasted a robust population of 16,000 elk. Today, in the post-wolf reintroduction era, only 2,000 remain. Similar results have manifested in Idaho’s Lolo zone, where only 1,900 elk remain. This is a stark contrast to the 10,000 elk that once called this area home.
- Effects To Ranching: As of 2018, the USDA stated that Colorado was the home to over 2,850,000 head of cattle. Beef production is one of Colorado’s largest agricultural commodities. As the talk of wolves being released into the Colorado landscape begins to build, so do ranchers’ concerns. With the anticipated expansion of wolves in the state upon their release, typical cow-calf operations are expected to experience a level of depredation, much of which can affect a ranch’s financial bottom-line.
The Informed Voter
As a showdown at the polls between pro-state level conservationists and sizable environmentalist groups, stages itself on the horizon, it is of absolute pertinence that all Colorado residents understand the worth of their vote. An ill-informed vote at the polls this fall can forever shape the face of Colorado’s ecological landscape.