Colorado can’t afford reintroduction of wolves
I agree with Dee Malone that it is absurd that wolves will spread coronavirus, but it is equally disingenuous to claim they will “restore the balance” (“Fear mongering, COVID-19 and gray wolves,” letters, March 21, aspentimes.com). No studies have been conducted to determine if wolves will be successful or how they will affect deer and elk populations, which are reaching unsustainable numbers (not related to chronic wasting disease).
There is no evidence of elk overgrazing aspens or riparian areas on the Western Slope. In Biological Conservation, David Mech points out assumptions made in prior studies crediting wolves with a “cascade” of changes in Yellowstone. The tropic cascade is speculative at best. “Restore the balance” is a rallying cry because it polled well.
Less speculative is the risk reintroduction might have on open space. Everyone can observe the loss of agricultural lands to increasing sprawl. Ranchers live on a thin economic margin. Wolf predation could result in the sale of critical ranchlands, loss of the wildlife they support, and crucial connectivity to public lands for large mammals.
Montana spent $300,000 on compensation over 20 years. In the last three years, costs have increased $100,000/year with the expectation of spending $400,000 in 2021. As wolf numbers increase and the wolf population spreads to more areas, costs rise. In Montana, 83% of depredation occurs on private land. Because western Colorado’s ecosystem is made up of aspen and brush, it has less defensible space and likely more loss of livestock.
There is no funding mechanism on the ballot to conduct studies to actually undertake reintroduction or to provide continued management and compensation.
Wolves are here, giving Colorado Parks & Wildlife the opportunity to slowly create the best management plan possible, with a thoughtful process that will protect elk and deer herds, critical ranchlands, and wolves.
While coronavirus in wolves is not an issue, the virus is likely to bankrupt the state eliminating the possibility of funding for implementation and management of wolves.