Aldo Leopold, a founding father of wildlife conservation in North America, wrote that relegating grizzly bears to Alaska was like relegating happiness to heaven. The problem is one may never get there.
The same might be said of restricting the gray wolf to the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes, about 15 percent of their historic range in the continental U.S. Our desire to have wolves in Colorado goes beyond the thrill of experiencing such a regal animal in the wild. Rather, it is based on the role of wolves in Rocky Mountain ecosystems and their contribution to a diverse wildlife community. Having wolves in other parts of the country is important but does nothing to recover and sustain food webs and biological diversity in Colorado.
The decline of top predators — species that hunt, kill and consume other animals — can initiate cascading effects that ripple throughout the food web. If wolves were re-established in Colorado, they would consume deer and elk, and the abundance of these species may decline in some areas. Not surprisingly, many hunters oppose the reintroduction of wolves for this reason. However, overabundant deer and elk populations are susceptible to disease outbreaks and have significant negative impacts on the environment. High levels of browsing on streamside plants, for example, can adversely impact many wildlife species, including birds, mammals and fish. Deer and elk populations can be controlled by hunting, but the size, age and health of animals consumed by wolves may show little resemblance to those harvested by hunters.
Since the gray wolf was reintroduced to Yellowstone, it has helped restore the natural balance of the ecological community. Reduced browsing by elk has contributed to increased growth of aspen, willow and cottonwoods, resulting in more food and habitat for beavers, songbirds and fish.
It would be naïve to ignore some people’s intolerance of wolves. This intolerance has deep historical roots but, in North America, is not based on credible risks to human welfare. The likelihood of direct human-wolf conflict is negligible. Wolves are a threat to domestic livestock, but most western states have programs that compensate for the loss of livestock to wolf predation.
Unfortunately, a recent proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could effectively end gray wolf recovery efforts nationwide. Colorado contains large areas of public lands with sufficient prey to support healthy wolf populations. Direct reintroduction of wolves, or allowing them to naturally colonize these areas, would go a long way toward returning the Colorado landscape to a more natural state with the potential to benefit all of Colorado’s wildlife. Moreover, it is likely to boost tourism; surveys in Yellowstone National Park have shown that nearly half of park visitors listed wolves as the animal they would most like to see on their trip and this has translated into tens of millions of dollars annually to the local economy.
The Fish and Wildlife Service position restricts small gray wolf populations to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, meaning that wolves are not welcome in Colorado despite their ecological importance and support by the majority of Colorado residents. If you share our wish to experience wolves while exploring the Colorado landscape, please contact the Fish & Wildlife Service and urge them to continue to provide federal protections for the gray wolf.
This editorial shows the importance of allowing wolves to disperse naturally into areas that can benefit from a top predator, like the Mexican gray wolf. The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing changes to the management of Mexican wolves which will not allow for natural dispersal of Mexican gray wolves into habitats where they are needed and where they will thrive. Keeping populations “boxed” in is not good for the species or the ecosystems that need them. THIS ARTICLE explains one of the problems with the recent Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican gray wolf management proposal. At the end of the above article there is a link to submit comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service, including talking points.
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