Return of wolves to Colorado?
December 26, 2008
The federal government last week rejected a bid to restore wolves to the southern Rockies, including several areas in Colorado identified as potential habitat for the top-tier predators.
The Flat Tops Wilderness area north of Glenwood Springs, in the Routt and White River national forests, have been identified as potential wolf habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a petition from WildEarth Guardians that called on the government to develop a recovery plan for the region.
In a prepared statement, the agency said its efforts are focused on the northern Rockies, the Great Lakes Region and the Southwest.
As such, the government has satisfied its legal obligation under the Endangered Species Act to plan for wolf recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
Conservation groups take a different view and hinted that they might sue the government to force the issue.
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The federal government has ignored the plight of many threatened species ” including Canada lynx ” until legal action forces action. The agency repeatedly rejected petitions to consider lynx until a federal judge ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the cats.
According to Rob Edward, of WildEarth Guardians, the Endangered Species Act requires the government to restore threatened plants and animals to “all or a significant portion” of the species’ historic range. According to Edward, wolves only live in less than 5 percent of their historic range.
Edward indicated that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s rejection of the petition, unfortunately, makes litigation on behalf of wolves in the southern Rockies more likely. “The agency’s position means that they we may have few options but through the courts,” said Edward.
However, the federal decision will likely elicit a sigh of relief from Colorado ranchers, who formally oppose a wolf recovery effort in the state. According to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, wolves would threaten the livelihood of ranchers in the state.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has no plans to bring wolves back to Colorado, but the agency did develop a “what-if” plan in collaboration with local communities and ranchers after a Wyoming wolf wandered into the state and was killed on Interstate 70 (in 2004).
After that incident, state biologists recognized there is a chance that wolves from the Yellowstone area may someday recolonize the southern Rockies. They wanted to have at least some guidelines in place in the event that some of the wideranging carnivores set up home ranges in Colorado.
There have been several reported wolf sightings in northern Colorado recently. A year ago, wildlife officials said a sighting in Rocky Mountain National Park was credible. In February 2006, division of wildlife officers filmed a wolf near Walden, Colo.
Wolves were native to Colorado but ranchers and government agents shot, trapped and poisoned them into oblivion by the 1930s.
Groups advocating for wolf recovery say the predator is crucial to restoring ecological balance in the region by trimming large elk herds that are overgrazing some areas. Without wolves, elk herds tend to remain stationary, destroying stands of young aspens and willows. The loss of vegetation affects many other smaller mammal and bird species in a cascading effect that has been documented in several scientific studies.