December 31, 2023

Wolves Now Add to the 'Colorado Experience'

A wolf who walked in from Wyoming caught on a scout camera
in North Park in March 2023 (Don Gittleson via AP).
Dad was still alive when the debate on reintroducing wolves to Colorado began, soon after the 1995 reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park. His US Forest Service career began and then ended in Colorado, and he had thoughts. 

His days of being a horseback district ranger in the Eastern San Juans were long gone. "Now," he said. "this state is just a big park. There's no place for wolves."

That's setting aside the livestock issues. When Dad was asking herders, "¿Cuántas borregas tiene?" there were no wolves to think about. Those sheep outfits are much diminished, for other economic reasons, but some remain, as do cattle, horses, llamas, alpacas, and other speciality livestock.

The late Ed Quillen, mountain-county newsman and publisher, prided himself on being the only Denver Post editorial columnist who lived outside the Denverplex. He liked to say that Colorado used to be a "colony of Chicago," providing minerals and agricultural products to industrial America. 

But then, he said, we became part of the "Los Angeles economy" — a colony of the entertainment industry. Now Colorado's best-known export is experience

If that is so, then think of wolves as just another tourism experience, like ziplines over canyons

So maybe Dad had it backwards? Colorado is a "park," so it should have wolves? Wolves that will add spiritual value to the Colorado experience without hurting anyone. 

With some wolves already filtering from Wyoming on their own (and killing livestock and dogs) was it necessary to bring in more? The voters in their wisdom thought so in 2020. Now 30–50 wolves are planned to be released in Colorado over the next three to five years.

Wolf 2302-OR, a 68-lb. female yearling, is released somewhere in Grand County on Dec. 18, 2023.


Some  headlines and squabbles:.

Maybe colorful flagging will keep wolves away from livestock. So says Adam Baca,  Colorado's first "wolf conflict coordinator."

Some Oregon ranches think flagging ("fladry") and other counter-measures are not enough.

[Tom[ Birkmaier, an Oregon rancher, expressed his concerns about the relocation, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting, "It's just going to bring the problem over to a lot of ranchers and end up killing a lot of livestock in Colorado."
This sentiment is not limited to Oregon ranchers alone. Lawmakers in other wolf states, including Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, have also declined Colorado's request for wolves, despite their own sizable wolf populations.

• Cat Urbigkit, Wyoming sheep rancher, writer, and livestock guardian dog expert, points out misinformation in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife press kit and says some of the released wolves came from livestock-killing packs.

CPW wasn’t up front in telling the public about the depredation history of the packs the newly released wolves originated. It was Rachel Gabel who dug into the details and told the public what she’d found.
Gabel is a rancher and ag-journalist from Wiggins, Colo., who has covered the wolf reintroduction extensively.

She was promptly attacked by the governor's husband, Marlon Reis.

Reis doesn’t just differ with Gabel in a lengthy thread of Facebook comments he posted over Christmas weekend. He repeatedly, personally attacks her abilities and standing as a journalist and urges the public to “never trust anything Rachel Gabel writes." . . .

It also makes us wonder whether our politically astute governor winced while reading Reis peevishly accuse Gabel of seeking, “not to report the truth, but to inspire fear.” Or, where Reis pettily huffed in the same post, “I'll never understand how she got hired as a journalist.”

• Wolves did not just wander into Colorado their own. The first pups were spotted in spring 2021. But that did not count as a "self-sustaining population," Colorado Parks and Wildlife said. It was interesting to the wildlife biologists though.

Stay tuned, there is more to come, for sure.