The biggest problem with the just-released draft plan for reintroducing wolves into Colorado’s wilds? It’s takeaway No. 5, in the condensed summary of the plan in Friday’s Gazette:
“Wolves will only be released west of the Continental Divide.”
How disappointing. Why not release these elegant, iconic yet ferocious creatures onto the Front Range — where urban and suburban denizens naively embraced Proposition 114 in droves on the November 2020 statewide ballot?
OK, that’s meant tongue in cheek. Yet, it also gets right to the point. The ballot proposal, which mandated the reintroduction of the wolves, passed handily thanks to the lopsided majority of Coloradans who are city slickers. The county-by-county vote tallies made that clear.
The closest most of them get to the wild kingdom is the flat screen mounted over the fireplace in the family room. Even crocodiles seem warm and fuzzy on Animal Planet.
From the safety of one’s cul-de-sac, there are no consequences to signing onto a proposal to import a much-romanticized species that is the stuff of legend.
The communities that pay the price are those “west of the Continental Divide” and throughout the high country — particularly in agriculture. The ranchers who raise livestock for metropolitan Colorado’s dinner tables will lose cattle and sheep by the scores. Plenty of ranches operate on a thin margin, and the loss of several head of cattle can cost operators thousands of dollars.
None of which is intended as a criticism of the smart and seasoned experts and stakeholders — wildlife biologists, among others — convened by the state Division of Parks and Wildlife to develop the reintroduction plan at the behest of Prop. 114.
They are merely following the voters’ orders and trying to balance competing interests.
Indeed, there are arguments for and against reintroduction. Considerations must be made for the impact, pro and con, on the rest of the wildlife population; on outdoor recreation; on rural residential areas; and of course on ranching, among other factors. It’s pretty complicated.
Which is precisely why such a complex and arcane policy decision never should have been on the ballot in the first place. It’s the kind of decision that should have been left to those entrusted with managing the wildlife in our state.
That’s why there’s an agency like Parks and Wildlife. It is staffed with experts whose life’s work is to study the natural world and and make science-driven decisions on matters like the reintroduction of a species.
Prop. 114 usurped and undermined that process, turning a complex consideration into feel-good politics — with potentially disastrous results.
Now, Parks and Wildlife is stuck with the chore of containing the inevitable collateral damage from a proposal that was funded and manipulated by out-of-state animal-rights activists, and then group-hugged into law by voters inspired by sentiment rather than science.
The draft plan released Friday is a first step toward implementation, which under Prop. 114 must come by the end of next year. Between now and then, the plan will face public hearings at which it could be changed based on feedback. A final draft is expected April 6.
The public also can comment on the draft plan online through Feb. 22 by visiting https://engagecpw.org/hub-page/wolf-engagement
Opponents rightly had labeled 114 “ballot box biology” because it expected the average voter to play scientist. Let’s hope Colorado’s wildlife managers can minimize the damage — and voters say “no” to ballot box biology in the future.
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