Reintroduction Talks Come To Denver As Wolves Score Temporary Win
The CO Wolf Reintroduction Plan has completed its public comment period, but not before Denver residents and other concerned citizens had one more opportunity to comment publicly to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission. Now the commission will have to tinker with finalizing the plan before the reintroduction begins in earnest later this year. Unsurprisingly the most prominent topic of conversation centered around Phase 4, and the mentions of recreational hunting in the original draft of the plan, which was released in December 2022. While we at WCC had additional concerns that you can read about here, which we submitted via written comments along with several other conservation groups, it was clear that the main focus of the day was on striking the balance between those Coloradans who wanted to know what lethal options might be on the table as wolves are placed in their backyards, and conservation-minded individuals and groups who don’t see the utility in bringing wolves back to their native territory just to kill them again, a practice that led to their extinction in the region back in 1940.
A Civil Discourse
The WCC had the opportunity to attend yesterday’s meeting and submit some public comments, emphasizing “there’s no reason that recreational hunting should be mentioned in the plan at all” during a short statement. Though there were many concerned citizens on every side of this complex issue, it was encouraging to see a consistent presence of decorum and civility from everyone involved.
The day was kicked off by the commission acknowledging, “there’s a biological side and a social side” to the debate at hand, and that became apparent as different people spoke throughout the day. Some commenters were professors, scientists, researchers, or students, attempting to sway the commission with statistics and citations from scientific studies. One speaker cited the ecological thriving of places like Yellowstone after wolves were reintroduced. One post on the subject describes that impact: “it rebalanced elk and deer populations, allowing the willows and aspen to return to the landscape. The end to overgrazing stabilized riverbanks and rivers recovered and flowed in new directions.”
The lines of support or opposition could not be easily drawn yesterday. One self-described rancher of 20+ years said she dealt with wolves in some of her previous stops and that, “every livestock we’ve lost is our fault,” as she attempted to convert the commission and her fellow ranchers to consider non-lethal methods of dealing with potential wolf conflicts, adding “there are countless success stories from all around the world.”
Another citizen quoted Steve Irwin during an impassioned speech saying, “we don’t own the planet earth, we belong to it.” A researcher cited studies about wolf populations in Yellowstone saying “let the wolves figure out their own cap,” in response to those who think wolf hunting is necessary to keep the predators from ballooning to out-of-control populations. One more concerned person noted correctly that studies have shown legalizing the hunting of wolves significantly increases poaching thereafter.
There were others who viewed wolves a little more menacingly. One commenter warned about the dangers of bringing in this “apex predator” to the state. A representative from CCA (Colorado Cattleman Association) mentioned the longstanding relationship the group had with the CPW, and implied that the relationship could sour depending on how the commission handles reintroduction. Another speaker praised the controversial “Phase 4” section of the reintroduction plan which mentioned a future in which wolves could be classified as a “big game or furbearer species.” The speaker’s rationale was simply that CO will “need all the tools in the toolbox to manage these wolves.”
Phase Four No More?
When the Reintroduction Draft Plan was first introduced, one of the biggest concerns for wildlife advocates was the section labeled “Phase 4.” The Phases in the plan denoted what would happen when different population and geographic thresholds might be met, and the final phase, mentioned a transition to “game status” for the wolves after delisting. This phase was one of the more controversial topics from yesterday, and wolves scored a big win following the comment period when the commission seemingly decided to strike most mention of “game” status from the plan and entirely marked out Phase 4 on their chart.
Instead of a specific Phase 4 that implies game status will one day be reached, the commission opted to rename the section “Long Term Wolf Management” and struck the implication that “game” status is the only option to be considered should the need arise to have these discussions in the future. While this does not guarantee that wolves will be protected forever in Colorado, it at least should mean that the initial plan won’t lead future committees to consider that an inevitability should the wolves reach a certain population benchmark. It’s perhaps a small win for now, and one that will need to be continually fought for, but it’s a step in the right direction. It is clear there are wolf allies on the commission with one commissioner nearly laughing at the notion that “Regulated public harvest of wolves by hunting during designated seasons is one tool that may help CPW manage wolf numbers and social acceptance of wolves” which is how the original plan was written.
There’s still time between now and finalization for “big game” or “hunting” to be mentioned again in the plan, but at least for now, it looks like a more neutral approach could prevail in the initial wording of this landmark plan that could help set examples for other states around the country considering reintroduction or editing their current plans.