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‘No to regular hunting season’ for wolves

Andrew Gulliford

Within a year, wolves will be restored to their rightful place in Colorado ecosystems. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has long touted the importance of our wildlife heritage to residents and visitors alike, and soon a top tier predator will return to its old haunts. As management planning continues, a recent meeting of the Stakeholder Advisory Group has considered whether wolves should be pursued during a regular hunting season. As a hunter who has sought turkey, deer and elk in our state for over 40 years, I say no. Yes, to wolves, but no to a regular hunting season for them.

If lone wolves cause excessive damage to livestock, aggressive animals should be moved or eliminated after nonlethal methods have been tried. That’s fair enough. But there should be no open season on wolves. They manage their own populations. They do not need to be controlled. When pack sizes get too large, “Canis lupus” splits off and new packs migrate to other areas. There is no need for a cap or stated population goal for wolf numbers. The SAC wisely concurs that if wolves are not causing problems, they should be left alone.

Public hunting of wolves will not reduce livestock depredation. The best available science tells us that public hunting of wolves has little effect on livestock killing. Hunters would not know which problem wolves committed depredations. Wolves also do not cause significant declines in big-game populations. They cleanse herds, and remove older and diseased animals that may be suffering from chronic wasting disease or other maladies. As a hunter, I appreciate wolves trimming herds to fit their habitat. That’s their eco niche.

Recreational killing of wolves will only further damage the public’s view of us as hunters. Like many of my friends and neighbors who hunt for the family table, I only shoot what I want to eat. To kill a wolf for its pelt is an exercise in trophy hunting.

Colorado citizens who successfully voted to pass Proposition 114 in November 2020 designated wolves as non-game. The people have spoken and they should be listened to. The North American Model of wildlife conservation includes the principle that wildlife may be killed only for a legitimate purpose. A wolf pelt splayed on a cabin floor is about ego, not purpose.

Re-introducing wolves to Colorado will be difficult. Hunters, ranchers, wildland biologists, watchable wildlife enthusiasts, photographers and CPW staff all have a stake in this eco-endeavor. We do not need a hunting season for wolves. We need to give them time to adjust, time to get their paws on the ground, time to exert their extraordinary ecological influence. When I’m big-game hunting, I’ll be thrilled to hear wolves and maybe even to see them running at a distance. Why would I want to shoot them?

Wolves are part of our Western heritage. Learning to live with them again on our mountain ranges and on our canyon rims will be an important 21st century lesson in ecology and humility. A hundred years ago, we killed them off. We removed them with impunity. But now Colorado citizens have voted. They’ve said let’s give wolves another chance. Having a regular hunting season for wolves is not compatible with the ethical values we are re-introducing. Wolf recovery in Colorado will be a grand experiment. Let’s let nature take its course.

Andrew Gulliford, professor of history at Fort Lewis College, is co-editor of “The Last Stand of the Pack: Critical Edition,” which is a re-print of Arthur Carhart’s 1929 book on the last wolves killed in Colorado.