Our View: Yes on gray wolf reintroduction | VailDaily.com

Our View: Yes on gray wolf reintroduction

Wolves were here first. That’s an inarguable point when it comes to Proposition 114 and the howling from those opposed to bringing back a native species to a state that prizes its wild places.

Counterpoint: Prop 114 is misguided

The Vail Daily’s Scott Miller, who grew up on a farm, is 0ne of two editorial board members opposed to Proposition 114. Read his column on why he thinks it’s a bad idea. 

It’s humans that hunted, trapped, and poisoned wolves to near-extinction throughout the West. In the simplest terms, Proposition 114 rights a wrong and does what wolves will have a hard time doing on their own: returning to a sustainable population in the public and private lands they once roamed. That’s a win for those who care about Colorado’s wild places, since the reintroduction of an apex predator will restore balance to natural landscapes around the state that have suffered from the absence of one.

Colorado’s elk herds are the largest in the world at more than 280,000 animals, and those elk have had nothing to stop them from overgrazing on streamside vegetation. The reintroduction of wolves in neighboring Wyoming and other western states has led to healthier ecosystems — from increased willow and aspen stands and enhanced habitat for beavers and trout populations.

Yes, there will be impacts to ranchers in Western Colorado when wolves kill livestock. But those impacts have had a small economic cost to the livestock industry as a whole in states where wolves have returned, with wolf depredation affecting less than 1% of annual gross income.  

Proposition 114 states clearly that the state will “pay fair compensation” to those who lose livestock. What that compensation will be, and what kind of documentation will be necessary to recoup losses, is yet to be determined, but Colorado certainly has the advantage of looking at how other states have managed their programs and coming up with a fair, generous system. As for a funding source, it’s also time to rethink funding for Colorado Parks and Wildlife — and we think the first place to start is by tapping into the outdoor recreation industry.

As local state Sen. Kerry Donovan, herself a rancher, said: “More and more people are getting outdoors, but less and less people are paying for it.”

What this measure will do, if passed, is task the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (which has opposed wolf reintroduction in the past) to work with the state’s wildlife biologists and public stakeholders to develop a science-based management plan and reintroduce gray wolves to the Western Slope by Dec. 31, 2023. 

That management plan includes determining where wolves are reintroduced and in what numbers, and set population targets. 

It would also direct Colorado Parks and Wildlife to help landowners prevent and resolve conflicts between wolves and livestock and fairly compensate ranchers for losses caused by wolves. And if the population gets out of balance, a wolf hunting season can be reintroduced as it has been in some other states. Wolves can also be moved around if they get too populous in a certain area.   

According to the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence at Colorado State University, multiple studies have found the state could sustain a viable population of gray wolves with its elk and deer populations and more than 24 million acres of public lands. One 1994 study found Colorado could support more than 1,000 wolves. Another in 2006 predicted it could support at least 400 wolves by 2025, after forecasting population growth and increased road development. 

As for big-game hunters who are opposed to Prop 114, wolves are pack hunters that cull the weakest members from the herd, including elk and deer with Chronic Wasting Disease — a growing problem in Colorado’s herds. Research has found no evidence suggesting that gray wolves would “decimate” Colorado’s big-game populations, according to professor Kevin Crooks, the director of the Center for Human-Carnivore Existence. Statewide, big-game populations and hunter harvests have not declined in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming, but impacts of wolves can vary at local levels. 

While we’re sympathetic to the concerns of local ranchers, the greater good outweighs the alternative with this ballot question. Will Colorado, as a whole, be better off with wolves? We side with yes.

Which is why we’re encouraging voters to check yes on Proposition 114.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Digital Engagement Editor Sean Naylor, Business Editor Scott Miller, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd and Advertising Director Holli Snyder.

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