Colorado ranches on losing side of wolves’ reintroduction

In a story about aspen trees, Elizabeth Stewart-Severy describes how aspen trees are “battling drier conditions, climate disruption, and unchecked herds of deer and elk.” The article gives no data on deer and doesn’t mention the 1990s’ high elk numbers.

Population estimates for deer in the valley have declined by half, from 15,396 in 1983 to 7,264 in 2018. There were 7,562 elk in the 1990s with no detriment to aspen trees and 4,235 in 2018. Additionally, there were 67 calves born per 100 cows in 1989 but only 30.7 in 2015.

The article suggests aspen decline could be mitigated by the reintroduction of wolves. But with so much information to consider, it makes sense to pull the reintroduction of wolves off the ballot and undertake studies. Have areas been identified in Colorado where elk are eating aspen shoots to a detrimental degree? Are recreation, housing developments or predators affecting the number of deer and elk? What is the consequence of adding another predator to the balance? Is it a good idea to bring wolves when deer and elk numbers are declining?

Conserving ranch land is important, providing open space, quality of life and wildlife habitat, as evidenced by surveys and dollars spent on conservation. Wolves are a wildcard, based on Yellowstone — an area that is 90% evergreen forest, that never had more than 6% aspen, and no hunting for a 100 years resulting in unsupportable elk populations. Colorado is nothing like Yellowstone, and Colorado is not remotely similar to what it was 100 years ago. Will wolves adapt to hikers and bikers swarming a once wild landscape? Colorado has almost 6 million people compared to 500,000 in Wyoming and 1.5 million in Montana. Wolves may win at the ballot box but Colorado will lose ranches and everything they provide.

Marj Perry