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Colorado’s Wolf Reintroduction: An Uncertain Step Forward


The Wolf Conservation Center acknowledges a significant milestone in wildlife conservation as Colorado embarks on a historic journey to reintroduce gray wolves by the end of this month. This initiative, propelled by the will of the voters through Proposition 114, reflects a growing environmental consciousness. However, alongside the celebration of this progress, there are looming concerns, particularly regarding the potential implications of the 10(j) rule under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

A Historic Reintroduction with Modern Challenges

Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) efforts to reintroduce wolves from Oregon before the end of 2023 signify a monumental step in restoring an integral part of the state’s natural heritage. Wolves used to roam across Colorado, and many other parts of North America, before being extirpated down to only 10% of their historic range.

The move to reintroduce wolves to Colorado is in many ways a sign that humans have progressed their thinking about wolves and other predators in the century since. However, the dynamic between the burgeoning human population in Colorado, the 6th fastest-growing state in the U.S. since 2010, and the reintroduced wolves presents a complex scenario. The development and human activity that characterize modern Colorado could lead to conflicts, raising concerns about the wolves’ ability to adapt and thrive in a significantly altered landscape.

The 10(j) Rule: A Double-Edged Sword

At the heart of the WCC’s concerns is the 10(j) rule, which designates these reintroduced wolves as an “experimental population.” This classification grants flexibility in management, including measures like aversive conditioning and potentially lethal control to protect people and livestock. While this rule aims to facilitate the reintroduction process, it simultaneously poses a risk of undermining the very essence of conservation efforts by potentially sanctioning the killing of wolves in conflict scenarios.

The history of wolf management in North America is riddled with instances of mismanagement and persecution under similar policies. The 10(j) rule could potentially replicate these historical mistakes, as we’ve seen in the current exceptions of ESA protections in Northern Rocky Mtn of ID, MT, WY; eastern 1/3 of OR, WA; north-central UT, turning a conservation success story into a repeat of past failures. The WCC emphasizes the need for management strategies that prioritize coexistence, advocating for non-lethal methods and public education to mitigate conflicts.

Advocacy for Ethical Management

As Colorado steps into this new chapter of wolf reintroduction, the WCC calls for a balanced approach that recognizes the intrinsic ecological value of wolves. We advocate for policies that ensure wolves long-term survival and well-being. This includes continuous monitoring, research, and community involvement in developing strategies that align with ethical wildlife management and conservation principles. The ball is in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s court for how they enforce the 10(j) rule and that will shape the success or failure of this reintroduction effort.

Unfriendly Neighbors

Another thing to consider is the plight of the North Park Pack, which naturally migrated into Colorado, and starkly illustrates the dangers these new wolves face. Reports of at least four members of this pack being lured across the Colorado-Wyoming border using electronic calls and subsequently killed by hunters are deeply troubling. This practice, exploiting the wolves’ natural responses and leading them into areas where they are unprotected, poses a significant threat to their survival.

The stark difference in wolf management policies between Colorado and Wyoming exacerbates the risk. In Wyoming, gray wolves in the ‘predatory animal area’ can be legally killed at any time, a policy that starkly contrasts with Colorado’s protection measures. This discrepancy creates a perilous situation for wolves, particularly those near state lines. The looming risk of wolves being lured into Wyoming and falling prey to hunters is a grim reality that cannot be ignored.

A Cautious Path Forward

The reintroduction of wolves in Colorado is a testament to changing attitudes towards wildlife conservation. However, this progress should not be overshadowed by policies that could potentially harm the very species we seek to protect. The WCC urges vigilance and active involvement from the conservation community to ensure that Colorado’s wolves do not become victims of the same historical patterns of mismanagement.

As we celebrate this milestone, let us also commit to being wise stewards of our environment, ensuring that the legacy we leave is one of respect, coexistence, and a true understanding of the ecological role of wolves. The journey of the Colorado wolves is not just a conservation effort; it’s a reflection of our relationship with nature and our responsibility towards it.

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