Colorado voters have decided to bring back a wild animal that was eradicated from the state in the 1940s because of the threats it posed to livestock and ranchers’ livelihoods.
But don’t expect to hear a gray wolf howl on Colorado’s West Slope just yet.
Following the narrow passage of Proposition 114, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will now spend the next three years coming up with a plan for how to reintroduce the animals by 2023.
The planning process will include public hearings to help determine how many wolves will be released in Colorado, and where.
Supporters of the reintroduction effort say the wolf’s return will benefit the landscape.
“We know, from decades of science now, that gray wolves are the engine of ecologic health and evolution for systems they have been part of for millennia,” Prop 114 supporter Rob Edward said during the campaign. “And because they were eradicated in the early 1900s because of a particular group, we’ve seen the ecological effects of not having wolves in the landscape.”
Edward said when wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s, trout and songbird populations increased as the apex predator helped restore a balance to the area.
But not everyone backed the idea of bringing wolves back to Colorado.
Several ranchers opposed the move, saying they are already seeing more issues from an increasing number of predators on the West Slope ranging from bears to mountain lions.
“I think we’ll see some hard times when wolves make a stand here in Northwest Colorado,” said Marsha Daughenbaugh, who ranches in the Elk River valley near Steamboat Springs. “If we want to return to a balance, then we also need to get rid of a lot of condos and airports and golf courses and lots of things that are manmade before we bring wolves into areas that are being hit for agricultural reasons and also for recreation.”
Wyoming offers Coloradans some clues as to what it will be like for the state to manage a new wolf population.
Wyoming and federal land managers spent almost $2 million last year managing an estimated 311 wolves.
The wolves killed 42 cattle and 27 sheep last year along with one donkey and a dog. And in 2017, wildlife managers killed more than 100 wolves involved in 243 livestock deaths. The state pays livestock owners for the damage each year. But officials with Wyoming Game and Fish say they have been able to reduce livestock conflicts in recent years. Some ranchers are using the inflatable waving tube figures commonly seen at car dealerships to scare wolves away from their livestock.