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CSU institution studies Colorado wolf reintroduction

Wolves+playing+in+the+snow+at+the+Wolf+Sanctuary+in+Divide%2C+Colorado.+%28Photo+courtesy+David+Hannigan%2C+Colorado+Parks+and+Wildlife%29
Wolves playing in the snow at the Wolf Sanctuary in Divide, Colorado. (Photo courtesy David Hannigan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

In 2020 Proposition 114 was put forth on the ballot to reintroduce gray wolves into designated lands west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023.

The proposition narrowly passed, with 50.91% of voters choosing in favor of reintroducing the gray wolf — an endangered species — into Colorado’s natural ecosystem for the first time since the 1940s.

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“When the idea of a ballot initiative first started, we felt it was important for (Colorado State University) to engage on this issue,” said Kevin Crooks, director of the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence at CSU. “CSU is a land-grant institution, which means that part of our land-grant mission is to apply knowledge that we learn here in the university to benefit society. So we felt that there was a role for CSU to engage on the scientific front to try to understand better what are the social and ecological dynamics that might underlie wolves coming back here to the state.”

Gray wolves are an endangered species in Colorado, but in many parts of the country, they are not due in part to reintroduction and conservation efforts. The project, headed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, will reintroduce about 10-15 wolves into designated areas in Colorado by the end of the year.

“This would be an important conservation action for the state of Colorado,” Crooks said. “There’s been an absent sustainable population of wolves a viable population from Colorado for nearly 70 years.”

This ballot initiative caused widespread controversy in Colorado, and the project itself is controversial nationwide because gray wolves are considered apex predators. Crooks said the goal of the CHCC is to study the sociological effects of wolf reintroduction on Colorado’s farming community.

“What we’re trying to do at CSU is to try to minimize impacts to both people and predators.” -Kevin Crooks, Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence director

“We have both social scientists, who work (with) people, and then we have wildlife ecologists, wildlife biologists — people that work on carnivores across campus — and our mission is to develop approaches to minimize conflict between people and predators and to facilitate coexistence between people and carnivores,” Crooks said. “That includes when they are restored here to the state.”

Along with Crooks, who is also a professor in the department of fish, wildlife and conservation biology, the CHCC is composed of faculty, researchers and graduate and undergraduate students who aim to be messengers of science-based information for the state of Colorado.

In terms of the contentious issue of wolf reintroduction, the CHCC has brought their information and messaging to CSU System offices in each county in Colorado.

“We’ve developed a series of information sheets that are easy to find,” Crooks said. “(We look at) policy, economics and social dimensions of living with wolves. … Since then, we also have conducted surveys of the general public in Colorado, asking them about their perceptions about wolves and wolf reintroductions.”

Crooks and his team are not directly involved with the wolf reintroduction process, but their studies and research have been used by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to analyze where the reintroduction would be most beneficial.

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“An agricultural economist who’s in our center investigated the economic consequences (and) the potential economic consequences to Colorado,” Crooks said. “We’ve been heavily focused on really trying to work to reduce social conflict about wolves, working with the agricultural community (and) working with ranchers to try to develop ways to facilitate their livelihoods to ensure that they can have their thriving livelihood and landscapes with wolves and other predators.”

Across the Front Range urban corridor, wolf reintroduction has been proven to reduce overbrowsing by elk, which has allowed vegetation to recover and more ecological diversity to flourish. Crooks, the CHCC and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are not sure what the effect of wolves on Colorado’s ecosystem will be as the first carnivores are introduced back into the wild at the end of the year.

“What we’re trying to do at CSU is to try to minimize impacts to both people and predators,” Crooks said. “We know that when humans and carnivores come into conflict, the carnivore populations are impacted. But similarly, on the other side, we also know that people can be impacted (through) impacts on their livelihood, such as ranching and impacts on safety. Generally we know globally that it is true that sometimes carnivores attack or kill people. So what we’re trying to do is try to minimize those impacts coming back both ways to try to minimize conflicts to improve the lives of people and the lives of carnivores.”

Reach Allie Seibel at science@collegian.com or on Twitter @allie_seibel_.

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About the Contributor
Allie Seibel, Editor in Chief
Allie Seibel is the editor in chief of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, a role she loves more and more with each day. Previously the news editor and news director of The Collegian, Seibel has a background in news, but she’s excited to branch out and experience every facet of content this and following years. Seibel is a sophomore journalism and media communications major minoring in business administration and legal studies. She is a student in the Honors Program and is also an honors ambassador and honors peer mentor. She also is a satellite imagery writer for the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University. Seibel is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and loves how The Collegian has gotten her acquainted with Fort Collins and CSU. When she’s not writing, reporting or in class, you can always find her with a book, cross-stitching, planning where to travel to next, trying out a new recipe or listening to Taylor Swift. Seibel is incredibly proud of The Collegian’s past and understands the task of safeguarding its future. She’s committed to The Collegian’s brand as an alt-weekly newspaper and will continue to advance its status as a strong online publication while preserving the integrity and tradition of the print paper. Seibel is excited to begin a multi-year relationship with readers at the helm of the paper and cannot wait to see how the paper continues to grow. Through initiatives like the new science desk and letting each individual desk shine, Seibel is committed to furthering The Collegian and Rocky Mountain Student Media over the next few years.

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