The Sierra Club, as represented by Delia Malone, continues to suggest science should be the basis for wolf reintroduction. The problem is that Yellowstone provides the only data. To compare Colorado to Yellowstone is like thinking you need an appendectomy because your aunt needed one. Colorado is nothing like Yellowstone nor is Colorado anything like it was 150 years ago. Colorado is fragmented by housing developments, highways, fences, and active use of trails. “Restore the balance” is a mantra, not science.
Yellowstone is 90% evergreen forest. Even primal Yellowstone comprised only 4% aspen cover unlike Colorado with aspen cover on 20% forested land. Additionally western Colorado has countless acres of oak, serviceberry, and chokecherry all providing habitat that allow elk to avoid riparian areas.
Scientific questions should be answered before wolves are reintroduced: Where specifically are areas damaged by elk? Why are there less than 50% mule deer today than 40 years ago? CPW is presently conducting a study to learn why Colorado’s elk numbers are declining. Will wolves even thrive with Colorado’s 5.5 million people compared to ½ million in Wyoming and 1.5 million in Montana?
Yellowstone: 2.2 million acres, averaged 140,000 tent and back country campers and more in main campgrounds in 2016/ 2017.
Maroon Bells: 181,535 acres, 137,000 hikers and campers, plus 300,000 at the lake in 2016/2017.
Maroon Bells is 1/12 the size of Yellowstone and has the same number of backcountry users.
Although .000023% cattle killed sounds negligible, it isn’t an accurate picture. Statistically about 1/5 of wolf packs kill cattle. If they’re killing even 5% of an individual’s herd, it’s an economic hardship. Only confirmed kills are counted and often predator kills aren’t discovered on a 50,000 acre grazing permit. Grazing permits are canceled in some areas.
The ballot initiative leaves funding to the legislature to figure out. CPW’s budget is 2.3 million. Wyoming spent $382,601 on depredation in 2018 and is asking for another $90,000 in 2020. What programs will CPW give up to cover a 20% cost increase?
Private ranches provide critical habitat for wildlife as well as valued open space and quality of life. If ranch land is sold, replaced by housing sprawl, as a consequence of wolf reintroduction, will Colorado lose more than it gains? Wolves may win at the ballot box, but at what cost?