Nov 20, 2020 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Evan Rao | Photo by Patil Khakhamian
For the first time since the 1940s, when they were hunted to near extinction, gray wolves will roam free across western Colorado. Unlike most conservation efforts related to threatened species, which are usually decided by federal agencies, this decision was put to the vote in form of Proposition 114. The margins were incredibly thin, as 1,495,523 voted in favor of reintroduction and 1,475,235 voted against. However, as the vote is now decided, reintroduction efforts led by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department are underway.
The debate surrounding gray wolf reintroduction is hotly contested in Colorado. In general, many of the votes in favor for wolf reintroduction come from urban and more progressive areas such as Denver. Supporters say that gray wolves are a highly threatened species, and a recent move by the Trump administration to remove them from the Endangered Species Act means they are severely at risk. Through reintroducing gray wolves in Colorado, a healthy population could be established, which could further breed with wolves in neighboring states, thus increasing genetic diversity. Furthermore, advocates point to the fact that the gray wolf is an apex predator and keystone species. This means that wolves play a crucial role in maintaining healthy and sustainable populations of other species, preventing overpopulation and overgrazing. On top of this, wolves are an important cultural symbol. Losing the gray wolf permanently would be a significant blow to the characteristic wildness of Colorado.
Opponents to gray wolf reintroduction are largely represented by ranchers and farmers who live in areas of Colorado where, unlike on the Front Range, wolves will actually be reintroduced. They argue that reintroducing the gray wolf will be detrimental to their livestock, such as cattle. Hunters also worry that reintroducing the gray wolf will pose a threat to elk.
Although those in favor of reintroduction tend to cite records that indicate only 1 in 10,000 cattle, and a small portion of elk, are killed in areas where wolves have been reintroduced, part of the initiative seeks to address these concerns, as it funds a program meant to compensate ranchers for any livestock lost to gray wolves.
Moving forward, it will be critical to work alongside ranchers and affected groups if wolf reintroduction is to be successful. Hopefully, through collaboration at local and state levels, the process will go smoothly. And perhaps, with time, future generations will be able to experience Colorado as it was experienced for hundreds of years before widespread settlement: as a state home to the magnificent gray wolf.