Colorado to Wolves: Keep Out

A state wildlife commission opposes the reintroduction of the predators, complicating a federal effort to save the endangered Mexican gray wolf.

(Photo: Don Bartletti/Getty Images)

Jan 14, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife commissioners made clear Wednesday that wolves are not welcome in their state.

The decision was outlined in a resolution—approved in a 7-to-4 vote—that opposes any move by the federal government to reintroduce wolves to the state.

The resolution is mostly symbolic, as the state cannot supersede the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery efforts. But it does send a signal to federal officials that Colorado has taken a side on the issue, and it’s not with the wolves.

“A majority of Coloradans want wolves in the state, this isn’t representative of the people,” said Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate with WildEarth Guardians in Denver. “The commission instead is supporting cattle ranchers, hunters, and its governor.”

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently sent a letter signed by governors in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah to the Department of the Interior, voicing opposition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts.

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Today, about 109 Mexican wolves roam free in the juniper woodlands of New Mexico and Arizona. The endangered wolves are descendants of the original “experimental population” released into the wild in 1998 after the species was nearly wiped out in the 1970s.

Plans are still in the works that could bring new populations of Mexican gray wolves to Arizona’s Grand Canyon region and southwest Colorado.

Colorado’s wildlife commission officials didn’t wait to see where wolves might end up, voicing opposition of any efforts to bring them into the state. At the same time, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Matthew Robbins clarified that natural wolf migration is not an issue.

“We’re not opposed to the wolves that have come into our state, we have had history of the gray wolf coming into our state, they have historic range here,” Robbins said during the meeting.

Bethany Cotton, program director at WildEarth Guardians, called the vote “anti-wolf rhetoric” that could close off habitat with the potential to support 1,100 wolves.

“Colorado has some of the best habitat in the country for wolves, and it’s not being utilized,” Cotton said.

For some parts of the state that’s become a problem.

As a top predator, wolves keep elk and moose populations under control. Without the threat of predators, elk herds stay in one place for longer periods, decimating streamside vegetation and trees such as Colorado’s cottonwoods, aspens, and willows.

In Rocky Mountain National Park, wildlife officials have installed 12-foot-high “exclusion fences” to protect some forest regions from overgrazing.

“It’s funny, because the Rocky Mountain elk were reintroduced in the state after they nearly went extinct, but now, the commission won’t allow wolves to be reintroduced, even though there is a real need for them,” Cotton said.