What would it take to get wolves into Colorado?
Yes, our state does have captive wolves at rehabilitation and education centers like Mission: Wolf. But I'm talking about wild wolves like the ones I've seen in Yellowstone National Park.
Wolves were eradicated from Colorado in the 1940s when there was a statewide campaign to wipe out these important predators by shooting, trapping and poisoning. In the decades since, there have been a few confirmed, individual wolf sightings in the state. However, no established packs have been documented by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The last confirmed wolf, a two-year old female from the Yellowstone National Park area, died needlessly in 2009 after ingesting a banned poison in Colorado.
In spite of this tragedy, I believe that wolves could make their way back to Colorado from Idaho or Wyoming, or someday, maybe even Arizona or New Mexico, but only if essential federal protections are upheld.
Unfortunately, those protections could soon disappear altogether. Two years ago, Congress stripped Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Idaho and Montana as part of a must-pass budget deal, and the states began a campaign to reduce wolf numbers to the bare minimum through hunting, trapping and lethal removal by the state and federal governments. Then last year, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) removed protections in Wyoming as well, the state authorized the killing of wolves anytime by almost any means across 85 percent of the state. With that decision, the chances of wolves being able to run that gauntlet and arrive safely in Colorado are now slim to none.
To make matters worse, FWS announced this summer that it plans to eliminate gray wolf protections across most of the rest of the lower 48, including Colorado. That means even if a wolf did make it to Colorado, it would have no federal protection whatsoever.
Why does any of this matter? Because, according to a poll conducted by Colorado-based Peak Campaigns earlier this year, a vast majority of Coloradans support the return of wolves to their state, including 72 percent who support protecting wolves that cross into Colorado from other states. Wildlife conservation isn't just a popularity contest though. There are good ecological and economic reasons to restore wolves as well.
Two Colorado State University wildlife ecology professors recently wrote, "Colorado contains large areas of public lands with sufficient prey to support healthy wolf populations. Direct reintroduction of wolves, or allowing them to naturally colonize these areas, would go a long way toward returning the Colorado landscape to a more natural state with the potential to benefit all of Colorado's wildlife."
Further, the successful reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone has resulted not only in a cascade of positive environmental benefits, but also a boon for local businesses that support wildlife tourism. There's no reason we can't enjoy those same benefits here in Colorado as well.
But time is running out. If we ever want to see wolves in Colorado again, we must speak up now. The official comment period for the federal gray wolf delisting proposal closes on Oct. 28, and a public hearing scheduled for this week in Denver has been postponed due to the government shutdown. That's why Defenders of Wildlife and our conservation allies are hosting a Colorado Citizens' Wolf Hearing on Oct. 16 at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law to provide wolf advocates and other concerned citizens who want wolf recovery to continue an opportunity to speak out.
I just returned last week from similar wolf rallies in Sacramento and Albuquerque, where FWS had scheduled public hearings prior to the shutdown. Even though those hearings were postponed, hundreds of wolf advocates still showed up. It was inspiring to see people from all walks of life -- teachers, veterans, retirees -- uniting in support of continued wolf recovery, and I know we can do the same here in Denver.
To make sure wolves have a future in Colorado, we must stand together and oppose the Fish and Wildlife Service's misguided proposal to strip federal protections from this iconic species.
John Motsinger, Communications Associate with Defenders of Wildlife, contributed to this post.
Colorado Citizens' Wolf Hearing details:
When: Wednesday, Oct. 16
Time: 6-9 p.m.
Where: University of Denver Sturm College of Law
2255 E Evans Ave.
Denver, Colo 80210
Cost to Attend: Free