Opinion | Susan Knopf: Vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 114 to reintroduce the gray wolf | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: Vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 114 to reintroduce the gray wolf

Susan Knopf

We’ve all heard of the Big Bad Wolf. Before we could read, or wipe our bottoms, we knew the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew down the straw and stick houses of two little pigs.

Red Riding Hood said, “My, what big teeth you have.” The Big Bad Wolf said, “The better to eat you with!”

So when we hear ranchers say wolves will destroy their livestock, we believe them. They probably believe it, too. Scientific research for 25 years shows birds of prey and domestic dogs each destroy more livestock than wolves. The weather and issues with birthing kill more livestock than wolves. I was shocked. I was very skeptical when I started researching this topic last year.

I was persuaded by facts.

For the record, The Colorado State University Extension service concluded, “At a statewide level, wolves are unlikely to have a major impact on overall big game populations or hunting opportunities in Colorado based on evidence from northern Rocky Mountain states.”

It gets better. A CSU Extension graphic clearly shows the elk harvest in Montana rose steadily from 2011-2017. In 2018, the harvest dropped to 2004 levels. In 2018, wolf and elk populations also declined, no doubt owing to conditions. The extension report concluded “… hunter harvest of elk in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have not declined since wolves were introduced … in 1995” despite a spike in wolf population in 2013.

Like I said, I was persuaded by facts.

Go Hunt reports that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith expects to lift all protections for gray wolves by the end of the year. (Another good reason to elect Biden.) Montana has allowed wolf hunting since 2009, and Wyoming allows hunters to shoot a wolf on sight.

So why are we killing wolves we are ostensibly trying to restore to the ecosystem? This is where it gets really interesting. Ranchers were up in arms because the alleged wolf predations on livestock went up. What causes the most loss to ranchers? According to The Fence Post, weather causes the most loss. “Non-predatory losses account for 56% of all losses.”

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.”

Now we know wolves don’t have a big impact on hunting or ranching. Facts are facts.

If it’s so controversial, why bother introducing the gray wolf at all? Turns out, restoring a complete ecosystem requires restoring the apex predators. In Yellowstone National Park, where the gray wolf was reintroduced in 1995 and where they have been studied for 25 years, rangers are pretty impressed with the outcome.

One of the big arguments for wolves is they keep ungulates, 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 the increase in biodiversity accompanied by wolf reintroduction.

Critics of Proposition 114 call it “ballot box biology.”  I’m not surprised government has shied away from taking this on. It’s just too hot a topic. We already have a number of Republicans who advocate massive dismantling of our government. In a 2019 memo, the Trump administration outlined a plan to privatize our national parks and wild places to benefit commercial interests. Why rock the boat?

Proposition 114 is a citizen initiative. We the people will decide what our wild places look like. A lot of scientists, ranchers and environmentalists believe the most Colorado thing to do, to be good steward of this garden, is to restore the wolf that we humans annihilated. Vote “yes” on 114.

And speaking of the Big Bad Wolf, did you hear about the Hillary Clinton coup of the U.S. government? I haven’t either. That’s according to President Donald Trump. Check out his remarks in the last few minutes of this week’s debate.

Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at sdnknopf@gmail.com.

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