Daily Camera (Boulder)
Finding the middle ground on wolves
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.