Opinion | Susan Knopf: I vote for wolves | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: I vote for wolves

Susan Knopf

The Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund are running a marathon. They’re trying to get enough signatures to put a wolf initiative on the ballot in 2020. According to Colorado Sierra Club, they collected 85% of the signatures needed for the Dec. 3 deadline.  

To help residents learn more about this initiative and the successful reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, a screening of the film “Epic Yellowstone: Return of the Predators” is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge. Colorado Sierra Club Wildlife Chair Delia Malone will answer your questions. Rocky Mountain Wolf Project also will screen two short films. It’s free. Donations are gladly accepted and recommended.

Colorado Stop Wolf Coalition is working against the wolf initiative. The group believes reintroduction of wolves in Colorado will hurt livestock and spread disease.

For the record, the research supports wolf reintroduction in Colorado. The facts don’t support the opinions of the ranchers. It would appear old legends of the “big, bad wolf” are indeed responsible for creating fantasy fears.

One columnist asserted the Sierra Club was presuming to be more knowledgeable than state wildlife biologists, forcing the issue of wolf reintroduction, against the better judgment of the experts.

The fact that Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife isn’t looking for a fight on this one doesn’t surprise me. It’s no proof, the state wildlife experts don’t favor wolf reintroduction. (I haven’t found a single professional wildlife manager to go on the record against wolf reintroduction.) It’s also no proof that wolf reintroduction wouldn’t be good for Colorado wildlife overall in creating greater biodiversity.

One of the big arguments for wolves is they keep ungulates, or hooved animals, on the move, which means they don’t overgraze stream banks. Many native plants, flowers and smaller animal habitats have been lost to ungulate overgrazing. In Yellowstone National Park, rangers have been pleased with an increase in biodiversity accompanied by wolf introduction.

Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, has been involved with the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program since the 1990s. He says, “If Coloradans are willing to embrace an honest portrayal of the gray wolf, as defined by decades of reliable research, they will conclude that co-existing with the species is a straightforward affair that requires only a modicum of accommodation. Such a conclusion advances restoration.”

Bad weather causes far more cattle and sheep losses than wolves. The Humane Society confirms less than 1% of deaths are verified wolf kills. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released false data based on unconfirmed cases that were extrapolated to reflect a wider area. Not real data. “The Humane Society of the United States analyzed the USDA’s embellished predation numbers. Their data show that farmers and ranchers lose nine times more cattle and sheep to health, weather, birthing and theft problems than to all predators combined. In the USDA reports, ‘predators’ include mammalian carnivores (e.g., cougars, wolves and bears), avian carnivores (e.g., eagles and hawks) and domestic dogs. Domestic dogs, according to the USDA’s data, kill 100 percent more cattle than wolves and 1,924 percent more sheep.”

As for claims of spreading disease, the pro-wolf contingent says wolves help control wasting disease because wolves prey upon weaker animals. As for hunters’ claims that wolves will reduce elk population and thus hurt the Colorado economy:

Malone shared elk population reports from Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. In all three states, elk populations have grown since the introduction of wolves, and the harvest (elk killed by hunters) also grew from 1995 to 2017 in all three states.

Due to a variety of factors, the wolf population in Yellowstone declined in recent years after peaking in 2003, 2004 and 2007. This data refutes assertions the wolves will take over and decimate the wildlife of the Rockies.

Malone says, “If we put initiative 107 on the ballot and then elect the gray wolf, we can begin a restorative relationship with nature. Restoring gray wolves to the wild lands of Colorado’s west slope will bring a much needed breath of fresh air to our natural ecosystems — initiating a restoration of biological diversity and ecosystem health that brings resiliency to our landscapes.”

Research consistently shows the reintroduction of wolves will be a good thing for hunters, it will negligibly affect ranchers, and wolves rarely attack humans. I vote for the wolves.

Susan Knopf’s column “For the Record” publishes biweekly on Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at sdnknopf@gmail.com.

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