Wolf reintroduction proposed for Colorado
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Conservation groups are renewing their push to bring wolves back to the Southern Rockies.
“The time has come for the government to repatriate wolves to the Southern Rockies,” said Rob Edward, carnivore-recovery director for WildEarth Guardians.
The group last week filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the agency to develop a wolf-recovery plan.
There is no deadline for the agency to respond to the petition. Based on past experience, it could take up to five years before federal biologists make any decision, and it might come down to a legal battle, Edward explained.
“We hope our petition jump-starts political support for restoring these majestic animals,” Edward said, explaining that the top-tier predators play a key role in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
Not everyone will be thrilled with the idea of bringing wolves back to their ancestral territories in the state. The two major Colorado associations representing cattle ranchers and wool growers have a long-standing history of opposing wolf reintroduction.
Bonnie Brown, of the Colorado Wool Growers Association, said last week that she hadn’t yet had a chance to read the petition. Several years ago, the organization did participate in a collaborative planning effort that developed a management plan for wolves that might wander into the state on their own.
That plan was spurred by the 2004 death of a female gray wolf on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs. It’s aimed at managing wolves that make it into the state freely. Those animals would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, said Edward.
In 2007, observers reported a possible wolf sighting near Walden. State biologists who reviewed a video of the sighting concluded that the animal probably was a wolf.
But purposely establishing wolf populations is different, according to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. The ranching group is adamantly against wolf reintroduction.
Citing potential livestock losses and the threat to domestic pets, the association previously adopted a formal resolution opposing wolf restoration in Colorado.
In the northern Rockies, private funding helps compensate ranchers for cattle killed by wolves. But officials with the cattlemen’s group say it’s tough to quantify the financial losses.
State biologists have identified several remote areas where wolf populations could thrive, including the Flattops Wilderness, northwest of Vail.
In Colorado, the gray wolf is identified as a species of concern, requiring special consideration.
The best argument for restoring wolves is ecological, Edward said. The predators would check deer and elk numbers, helping to restore over-browsed vegetation in places like Rocky Mountain National Park, where damage from grazing ungulates has been well documented.
Park managers are planning to cull hundreds of elk each year in order to protect aspen and willow trees from intense browsing.
Unchecked grazing destroys habitat for birds and other species, according to scientists.
The petition urges federal biologists to develop a recovery plan that focuses on the reintroduction of wolves to at least four core areas, identified by biologists as being excellent habitat for wolves in the region.
The petition also identifies numerous threats to wolf habitat in the region, including roads on public lands and increased development that would further fragment habitat. Based upon the scope of these threats, the petition calls for the government to designate critical habitat for the species.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.
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