A successful wolves reintroduction will take empathy, respect
In order for wolf reintroduction to be a success, it is important for proponents of Proposition 114, like me, to listen to the ranching community’s views on wolves. Its support is critical to this effort. It is a community bound together by generations of hard work. Our evolutionary history has shown that without cooperative social relationships and the information they provided, our Stone Age ancestors would not have been able to survive. Beliefs take hold when they connect to the group one belongs to, and are critical to one’s sense of self.
We feel the need to defend the views of the community or else face the prospect of losing membership in it. We often don’t see information as information but as badges of identity. Trying to correct misperceptions with data and fact will often backfire.
The data on wolf predation has long been available. Yet to many members of the ranching community, wolves continue to be seen as a threat to their way of life. Predation does occur, and is traumatic. Yet in the northern Rockies states, where there are approximately 1.6 million cattle and 2,000 wolves, wolves prey on 0.01 cattle annually. Many coexistence techniques have been developed to reduce the likelihood of predation.
Yet, despite this data, when a belief has been deeply tied to a community, minds are hard to change. But research has shown that people are more receptive to letting in information that is contrary to their beliefs when it comes in the form of group, person-to-person interactions. If wolves are to become part of Colorado’s wildlands once again, if the concept of coexistence is to gain a foothold, those supporting the reintroduction should engage with the ranching community in good faith, aware of the bonds that have developed for centuries, and respectful of the trauma caused by livestock losses. Interaction can then focus on shared concerns, and mistaken beliefs can be discussed through the building of trust within the community.