Colorado ranchers oppose plan for wolf recovery
Summit County, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY ” A push by conservation groups to bring wolves back to the Southern Rockies has fueled a new round of controversy, with Colorado ranchers going on record to oppose the attempt.
WildEarth Guardians recently petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a wolf recovery plan for the region. Reestablishing a population of the carnivores is crucial to bringing ecosystems back into balance, according to the group.
But the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association said the idea of bringing wolves back is based on a “faulty assumption” that wolves are needed for functional, healthy ecosystems.
“We would suggest that any healthy ecosystem has the capability of adapting to the constant change under which it exists,” the association said in a statement released last month. “Constant perturbation is the norm for an ecological system and, in fact, systems are dependent on these perturbations for proper functioning … As one component of the system wanes, others quickly fill the void.”
But conservation groups supporting the wolf recovery plan said the cattlemen’s position is unfounded and completely lacking in scientific credibility.
“To the contrary, there is a robust and growing body of research indicating that wolves are critical to the ecological health of the systems they evolved in. The subtext of the (association’s) position is that it was acceptable to extirpate wolves and that the cascading degradation of the ecosystems … is also acceptable,” said WildEarth Guardians’ Rob Edward.
Recent research shows that, as wolves, deer and elk co-evolved, the predator-prey relationship between them helped shape the greater ecosystem far beyond the direct effects of hunting, he said.
By the way they hunt, wolves keep ungulate herds on the move, preventing them from over-browsing stands of young willows and aspens.
Scientists in Rocky Mountain National Park have determined that an over-population of elk has caused a dramatic decline in wetlands and associated habitat for small mammals and birds.
The cattlemen’s association claims that, with shifts in management, larger predators like bears, mountain lions, coyotes and lynx can be managed appropriately to contain prey species within carrying capacities.
Edward said other predators can never replace wolves.
“Ambush predators like mountain lions can’t fill that role … Coyotes are too small … and lynx don’t hunt ungulates,” he said.
The cattlemen’s association is also concerned about predation of livestock. A system used in many states, including Colorado, that compensates ranchers for losses doesn’t take into account the loss of reproductive capacity from a well-developed gene pool or the economic loss resulting from having to relocate an entire herd, ranchers argue.
Edward acknowledged the system isn’t perfect but said wolf advocates have gone “above and beyond” to try and address losses with the privately funded compensation system.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not under a deadline to respond to the petition, but backers of wolf reintroduction could eventually sue the federal government to develop a plan that would help restore wolves to the Southern Rockies.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.