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5Point Adventure Film Festival to screen film about wolf-cattle conflict management Sunday

A still from the documentary “Range Rider” shows the film’s subject Daniel Curry riding a horse in a field with cattle. On horseback, Curry serves as a buffer between wild wolves and the livestock that graze on public lands in Washington state.
Colin Arinsman
/
Courtesy Photo
A still from the documentary “Range Rider” shows the film’s subject Daniel Curry riding a horse in a field with cattle. On horseback, Curry serves as a buffer between wild wolves and the livestock that graze on public lands in Washington state.

Daniel Curry is a “range rider” — a buffer, of sorts, between wolves and the cattle that graze on public lands.

Curry patrols the sweeping landscapes of northeast Washington state on horseback to reduce conflicts between wild canines and the livestock he’s hired to protect. According to Curry, the goal is twofold: fewer cattle die from wolf depredation, and fewer wolves die from lethal human intervention.

“We can do this in a way that I think benefits not just the culture that lives with wolves, but wolves themselves, and people that have a very vested interest in seeing wolves back in the landscape,” Curry said in an interview with Aspen Public Radio.

Curry’s work is now the subject of a 30-minute documentary, “Range Rider,” that’s playing at the 5Point Adventure Film Festival in Carbondale this week.

The screening is part of Sunday’s “Changemakers” program, reaching local audiences as stakeholders throughout Colorado navigate a contentious wolf reintroduction process on the state’s Western Slope.

“I think this is a really powerful story, and I think it's also a very sensitive topic,” Curry said. “And I've seen some folks try and sensationalize this already complicated situation. I didn't want that to happen [with this film].”

Though the film is focused on Washington, where wolves have been naturally repopulating the landscape from neighboring areas for several decades, Curry said his state could serve as a positive example for communities elsewhere that are now grappling with wolf management.

“I think Washington has the potential to be a state to stand out as an example for how wolves can be managed, and how human interests and cultures that live directly with wolves can actually not just coexist, but ‘co-thrive,’” Curry said.

Even so, Curry recognizes that the topic is a “polarizing one.”

“I think this is a really powerful story, and I think it's also a very sensitive topic,” Curry said. “And I've seen some folks try and sensationalize this already complicated situation. I didn't want that happening.”

That sensitivity is evident in Colorado, where voters narrowly approved a measure in 2020 to reintroduce wolves to the state’s landscape by the end of 2023.

The ballot was split by less than two percentage points: “Yes” votes accounted for 50.91% of the tally compared to the 49.09% of voters against reintroduction.

And voters who favored reintroduction were mostly concentrated in Pitkin, San Miguel, Denver and Boulder counties.

If Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s draft management plan is approved in May, wolves will first be released in a region that includes Aspen, Vail and Glenwood Springs. However, a bipartisan bill to delay the reintroduction has cleared the state Senate and is heading for consideration in the House of Representatives, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reports.

The effort is framed as a way to restore ecological balance in the West, but it has also caused angst among ranchers and hunters concerned about wolf depredation of livestock and big game.

The film, directed by Colin Arinsman, acknowledges that divide in Washington, and includes perspectives from farmers and ranchers who want the option to use lethal methods to protect their livestock from wolves.

“My affinity for wildlife drew me to this story but it felt critical to take a balanced approach,” Arinsman wrote in a director’s statement on the website for the film.

Arinsman acknowledged the “real threats” ranchers face, the “new challenges” wolves present and the “contentious battle between wolf advocates and ranchers” that Curry must navigate as someone in the middle.

“The solution to this conflict is often presented as a black and white choice between removing either cows or wolves from the landscape,” Arinsman wrote. “I admire Daniel Curry's complex relationship with both wildlife and ranchers and his desire to find a middle path.”

Curry said he hopes the film sparks discussion, and that audiences see the possibilities for wolf reintroduction in a rural landscape already populated by agricultural stakeholders.

“It's a very hopeful sight to see people that live with wolves on the landscape in this capacity — that potentially might be negatively affected by them being out here — be so open to [range riding] and be so willing to work with somebody like myself, to work with a new variable on the landscape with an already pretty difficult job,” Curry said.

The film demonstrates that sight, Curry said.

“It's out there, it's on the landscape, we just need to see more of it,” Curry said. “But this work is finding better ways to basically handle a situation, so it doesn't even become a problem, and it actually benefits everybody.”

5Point’s “Changemakers” program, presented by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, includes “Range Rider” and five other films at the Carbondale Recreation Center. The screening is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday; tickets for the event and other 5Point programming are available through aspenshowtix.com.

Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.