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Advocates, ranchers outfitters can coexist with wolves

Wolves are returning to Colorado. About half of us are happy about this and about half of us aren’t. Working together, however, we can make it work for all of us.

Lennette DeForest

Proposition 114, passed by Colorado voters in 2020, mandates that Colorado Parks and Wildlife reintroduce wolves by the end of 2023. CPW is deep in the planning process, with both a Technical Working Group and a Stakeholder Advisory Group working hard to provide input to the agency so it can draft the best wolf-management plan possible.

“Best” means ensuring that negative impacts to hunters, livestock producers and outfitters are minimized or eliminated while restoring a self-sustaining population of our native wolves to Colorado. The ideal future is one where we have healthy wildlife populations and economically viable ranchers and outfitters along with a restored wolf population. That’s happened in other places, but not without conflict. Colorado can do it better than anywhere, proactively reducing those potential conflicts, but only if we work together.

As demonstrated across the world, there are ways for people and wolves to thrive together, like they have in Transylvania, Romania, for example, for hundreds of years. Wolf advocates are already offering support to ranchers in North Park to minimize depredation on cattle from a wolf pack that established itself in Colorado on its own in 2021. A variety of effective techniques exist to reduce the chances of negative impacts from wolves. These include methods to handle and train cattle so they’re less vulnerable to wolves, range riders who spend time among livestock to oversee and protect them from predators, guard dogs, and technological devices as permitted by CPW and federal wildlife agencies. The technology ranges from simple, such as fladry, which consists of flags on a fence line that effectively repel wolves, to high-tech, like cameras that use artificial intelligence to identify predators, then send a message to livestock producers.

Some of these methods can be costly, and some won’t work in some situations, but there are ways to reduce conflicts, ideally proactively, and coexist with wolves. In North Park, while there have been a number of incidents involving Colorado’s one known wolf pack, there are ranchers who are successfully implementing some of these techniques. Wolf advocates have already demonstrated their willingness to assist the ranching community both with money and time, and that could and should be done throughout Colorado.

We also can and are learning from what has happened in the Northern Rockies states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. There is no question that wolves have had some undesirable effects there, including changing the way that elk (wolves’ preferred prey) use the landscape, resulting in hunters and outfitters sometimes not finding elk in the same places at the same times as in the past. But overall, the elk populations in those states have increased since wolf reintroduction in 1995, the livestock industry has remained healthy and vibrant, and outfitters remain in business.

Wolf advocates need to be open to understanding the views of ranchers, hunters and outfitters. These folks have real fears and valid concerns, and some believe they will be put out of business by wolves.

Ranchers, outfitters and hunters likewise should be open to recognizing the views of wolf advocates, who feel that native species like wolves belong in Colorado and will provide both ecological and social benefits.

Let’s work together and make Colorado’s wolf restoration a shining example of how diverse interests can come together over a contentious issue and succeed. We can do it.

Lennette DeForest attended San Diego State University as a biology major.  DeForest has a 40-year history of advocacy for wolves in the wild. For the past 10 years, she has been working with wolves, volunteering at a rescue organization.