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Contentious canines: The public weighs in on wolf reintroduction plans

Hamm and Miller Wolf reintroduction.jpg
Hattison Rensberry
Jack Hamm and Levi Miller stand in the lobby of CMC's lobby in Rifle, Colorado, during a break between sessions at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife public meeting on February 7.

Wolves may be a somewhat common critter in nearby Wyoming and Idaho, but Colorado has seen very little of the contentious carnivores in recent decades due to 20th century clashes with ranchers and farmers. KDNK's Hattison Rensberry has more.

Grey wolves have a nearly mythological reputation in a state where their appearance is uncommon and sightings are often heavily debated, so it is no wonder that some community members are apprehensive to Colorado’s imminent wolf reintroduction.

Wolves aren’t picky about where they live, the only requirement is an abundance of large game. Notably, the region that has been determined to be most suitable for wolves in Colorado is the region where voters were less enthusiastic about the idea of another large predator.

Earlier this month in Rifle, Colorado, a small town on the border of the reintroduction zone, a meeting was held to invite community commentary on the process and draft of the overall plan. 

A number of biologists and ecologists showed up to the meeting, making their cases for biodiversity and the benefits of reintroduction, alongside ranchers and outfitters from several different counties.

Jack Hamm and Levi Miller are two ranch hands that showed up to the meeting in support of their colleagues in the agriculture industry.

Both young men come from families that work in agriculture.

“I just don't think it's going to turn out very well, I think there's too many issues that aren't gonna be addressed and issues that we're not gonna be able to see,” said Hamm.

“With the cattle and the herd management, we won't be able to just watch over all of them. Especially with as much brush and cover around here, you won't be able to locate all your animals and even if one is killed by a wolf, you're not gonna be able to find it watching over (the) herd,” said Miller.

“With wolves, you'd have to check 'em so much more. And ranchers have so much more to do during the summer ‘cos they gotta irrigate, take care of all their other equipment and just to keep going up there to look after your cattle, that's just another thing that you gotta do. And if not, you gotta hire someone to do it. And ranchers don't got a lot of money,” he said.

Wolf reintroduction RIfle.jpg
Hattison Rensberry
A meeting attendee watches the Stakeholder Advisory Group present at the February 7 Colorado Parks and Wildlife meeting on wolf restoration.

Another attendee was Mary Gervais, a retired biology teacher, who claims that post reintroduction wolves would be in the proximity of her backyard… and she still supports the measure.

“I started learning about wolves and wolf reintroduction in 1988. We spent at least a month studying wolves and wolf reintroduction in class. We had a simulation. I personally favor reintroduction of wolves because to me, the health of wildlife and keeping the ecosystem in the best order it can be, takes primary importance,” said Gervais.

“And I'm here today because I figure if I talk the talk for all those years in school, I better walk the walk when it comes to my county,” she said.

When outfitter and rancher Pearl Burbey from Southwest Colorado was asked what she was most concerned about, she had this to say:

“It will be dramatically affected by the introduction of the wolf. And that affecting my family personally and professionally, because we already are considering selling our business because of it,” she said.

Colorado Proposition 114 has already established that releases of wolves must be 60 miles or more from nearby tribal lands as well as the Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico borders, and the initiative requires that the reintroduction of gray wolves must begin by the end of this year.

Commentary on Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s draft plan is only open until February 22, after which point the final draft and regulations approval meeting will be held in Glenwood Springs on May 3rd and 4th.

More information and a comment form is available at WolfEngagementco.org.

Meetings can be streamed live or replayed afterwards online at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife YouTube Channel.
Copyright 2023 KDNK. To see more, visit KDNK.

This story was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Hattison Rensberry grew up in Rifle, CO and earned her bachelor’s degree in graphic design and drawing at the University of Northern Colorado. She comes to KDNK as reporter and host after working on the design-side of news for the past three years. Hattie does theater locally, photography, needlecrafts, and also provides editorial design for the Sopris Sun.