Daily Camera (Boulder)

Find­ing the mid­dle ground on wolves

- By Shayne Jones United States of America · Colorado · Centennial

Hear the word “wolf,” and the mind’s eye is prone to con­jure up im­ages of a snarling beast with teeth like dag­gers, drip­ping with deadly in­tent.

And with a be­lieved jaw strength of up to 1,200 pounds per square inch, it’s not an en­tirely un­founded im­age. How­ever, decades of slanted rhetoric and the legacy of the “big bad wolf” to boot have all but sealed the fate of wolf pop­u­la­tions in most U.S. states. Colorado has not seen a self-sus­tain­ing pop­u­la­tion of gray wolves since the 1940s.

But the Cen­ten­nial State has a chance to re­verse fate Nov. 3, when Colorado Propo­si­tion 114 hits the bal­lot. A “yes” vote will grant the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Com­mis­sion per­mis­sion to de­velop a plan to rein­tro­duce and man­age gray wolves within Colorado’s Western Slope by Dec. 31, 2023.

A “no” vote sim­ply means that wolves will not be rein­tro­duced to by the state. If the ini­tia­tive passes, the com­mis­sion will ad­di­tion­ally be re­spon­si­ble for hold­ing statewide hear­ings to eval­u­ate pub­lic at­ti­tudes re­gard­ing sci­en­tific, eco­nomic, and so­cial im­pli­ca­tions of the ini­tia­tive, and for com­pen­sat­ing live­stock losses.

The thing is, this all sounds great un­til one re­al­izes there is a mas­sive divide in pub­lic opin­ion when it comes to wolves, and fur­ther­more, that the divide crum­bles into a chasm when it comes to rein­tro­duc­ing them.

If you’re a sup­porter, then you ei­ther just like wolves or you know that they’re a key­stone preda­tor: A wolf’s pres­ence in an ecosys­tem sin­gle hand­edly de­ter­mines what other species ex­ist and thrive there.

Chances are, though, that if you’re a sup­porter, you fo­cus fiercely on this fact while po­ten­tially over­look­ing the other: that there is a gen­eral lack of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to sug­gest that there are ef­fec­tive non-lethal mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies to re­duce live­stock pre­da­tion by predators like wolves.

While ranch­ers have re­ported herd­ing, fenc­ing, and stalling at night as po­ten­tially ef­fec­tive non-lethal strate­gies, most don’t con­sider these as a proxy for lethal strate­gies, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 study on the sub­ject.

Which­ever way the coin falls, some­one seem­ingly loses. Rein­tro­duce wolves, and ranch­ers po­ten­tially lose money and prop­erty. Don’t rein­tro­duce them, and the en­vi­ron­ment suf­fers.

Al­though I lean to­wards vot­ing “yes” on Propo­si­tion 114 — ev­i­dence pro­duced by past rein­tro­duc­tions in other states shows suc­cess and less live­stock loss than ex­pected — the com­mis­sion must in­vest more time in re­search­ing ef­fec­tive non-lethal mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies. If these strate­gies ex­ist, then ranch­ers can sleep more soundly know­ing that they have in­sur­ance (be­yond mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion) and con­ser­va­tion ac­tivists can fi­nally see wolves back in the moun­tains, where they be­long.

And in or­der for us to reach that mid­dle ground, we must ac­tively pur­sue it. Re­search takes time and money. Our gov­ern­ment has those things; we just need to voice our opin­ions about where it should be fun­nel­ing them.

All too of­ten, we fo­cus on the “this” or the “that” of an is­sue, and fail to rec­og­nize that some­times there is a link be­tween the two — as with this is­sue — which is all too eas­ily over­looked. Ig­no­rance breeds con­tempt. Con­tempt floods the divide and washes away the ma­te­ri­als to bridge the gap.

As Coloradans, it is our right to vote the way we see fit. But it is also our right to de­bate, dis­cuss, and have tough con­ver­sa­tions with our neigh­bors and of­fi­cials.

Then, maybe, we can build that bridge to­gether.

Shayne Jones is a re­cent Class of 2020 col­lege grad­u­ate and free­lance jour­nal­ist. In her free time, you can find her on the field play­ing Ul­ti­mate Fris­bee or search­ing for the per­fect cof­fee shop.

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