LTTE: Initiative 107 is a great opportunity for Coloradans

Guest Author

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To the Editor,

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January has been a big month in Colorado wolf news. First, the Secretary of State’s office confirmed that proponents have gathered enough signatures to put wolf reintroduction on the 2020 ballot as Initiative 107. A few days later, Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported evidence of a small wolf pack near Craig.

If verified, this is good news, affirming the availability of suitable wolf habitats in the western part of the state. But contrary to what some are arguing, it doesn’t do away with the need for a wolf reintroduction program for several reasons.

First, the five or six wolves currently in Colorado are very near the Wyoming border, which classifies them as shoot-on-sight vermin across 85% of the state of Wyoming, according to the Sierra Club. Since wolves don’t recognize state boundaries, they remain at high risk in that area.

History tells us that wolves are not safe in Colorado either. Several animals that crossed into the state in recent years have been killed or just “disappeared.” There is a long history of persecution in both states, driven by unfounded fears and myths. Given this reality, it’s unlikely these wolves will survive for long in Colorado.

Second, we can’t count on natural recolonization. To the best of our knowledge, it has been at least 70 years since there have been any established wolf packs in Colorado. Natural colonization appears to be a rare phenomenon.

If there was a safe dispersal corridor down from the Greater Yellowstone area, we might wait for natural recolonization to return wolves to our state, but that is far from the case; the 300 miles between Yellowstone National Park and our state line are a killing zone for wolves.

Third, the wolf is a highly social species whose success as a predator is dependent on maintaining a minimum pack size. Five or six members barely meets the minimum size for a pack, and this few animals puts the entire pack at risk if one or more animals are lost.

Initiative 107 represents an exciting opportunity for Coloradans to rectify a tragic historic mistake, restore nature’s balance and initiate a new era in human/wildlife coexistence in our state.

Fourth, a few confirmed sightings of wolves don’t equate to a functioning breeding population in Colorado, the ultimate goal of reintroduction. Several wolves were seen in the Greater Yellowstone area in the early 1990s, but it took a reintroduction effort to create a self-sustaining population.

That well-conceived, well-executed program brought in sufficient animals to avoid a genetic bottleneck in the new population, which has helped ensure its long-term success.

Initiative 107 represents an exciting opportunity for Coloradans to rectify a tragic historic mistake, restore nature’s balance and initiate a new era in human/wildlife coexistence in our state. Just as previous generations of conservationists created national parks and wildlife refuges, we have an opportunity to restore the West’s missing apex predator and move the wheel of environmental progress forward.

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As Coloradans contemplate wolf reintroduction, we do so against a background of massive global biodiversity loss: the start of a mass extinction event, according to many conservation biologists. But here in Colorado, we have an opportunity to move in a more hopeful direction.

Instead of displacement, reintroduction and helping wolves regain lost homes. Instead of taming the landscape further, re-wilding it and making our world healthier and more whole. Initiative 107 provides a great chance to write a new and improved chapter in our history with wolves and with wild nature generally. Let’s take it!

Sincerely,

Philip Cafaro

CSU philosophy department professor, faculty advisor to CSU’s student chapter of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project

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