The Union of Concerned Scientists, a powerful environmental industry group, says the Interior Department is conducting a “siege on science.” The Sierra Club calls it a “war on science,” accusing various officials of putting politics ahead of sound science in environmental management. American Scientist magazine, not surprisingly, insists that “Science should be the basis of decision-making about wildlife policy.” Another environmental writer says officials have “found new strategies to replace science with politics,” weakening the protection of wildlife.
The rift between science and politics has been growing for years. At the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, we were occasionally accused of putting politics ahead of science, though I developed a profound respect for the expertise of our State’s wildlife biologists. So it seems almost satirical when some of the same environmental activists try to supplant the judgment of wildlife experts with their own political agenda. Yet that precisely defines the 2020 ballot initiative requiring the forced introduction of gray wolves to Colorado. It is a political agenda that the State’s top wildlife experts have continually studied, and continually decided against.
Savor the irony of the Sierra Club’s website boasting, “For the first time, Coloradans – not politicians, not bureaucrats – We, The People, may decide whether to reintroduce gray wolves to Colorado.”
In other words, one of the harshest groups that insists politics has no place in wildlife management, now dismisses wildlife professionals as nothing more than “bureaucrats,” whose flawed judgment must be overruled by the political process. Now, who is declaring war on scientists?
Apparently to these activists, scientists are only useful if they adhere to the “correct” political view, but can easily be discarded if they deviate. So, the Sierra Club and its allies are paying professional signature-collectors to gather the required 124,000 signatures by December 13, to place the measure on the ballot. They have about half those signatures already and it seems likely they will get the rest. That’s at least partly because they are collecting them along the Front Range in places like the Denver Zoo – places where wildlife enthusiasts would never see an actual wolf other than on television.
The ballot proposal requires the reintroduction of wolves west of the Continental Divide – nowhere near the Sierra Club’s regional headquarters in Boulder, nor its national offices in San Francisco (in both of which wolves once thrived). Indeed, calling Colorado “the last battleground for restoring wolf populations,” advocates point out that the predators have already been reintroduced into Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, and Michigan. Thousands of the vicious canines once roamed freely, not only in those states, but also in Virginia, Florida, New York, Illinois, and California. No reintroductions are being forced onto ballots in those states. Maybe people in Western Colorado should agree to the entire plan, as long as those places agree to go first.
Leaders pushing the reintroduction plan are quick to claim vast public support, arguing that the State Wildlife Commission has simply ignored popular opinion. In fact, the Commission relies heavily on the sound advice of its biologists. “Each time, despite majority… support in this state, the commission voted against wolf restoration,” said one organizer. “So we’re hoping to change that by being able to demonstrate we’ve got the votes, this is the will of the people.” Perhaps, but remember 80 percent of the people in Colorado live east of the Continental Divide, while the measure requires wolves on the West side – easy to support predators in someone else’s back yard.
The wolf issue shouldn’t be political, but it is. That is largely because the animal is still on the endangered species list. Thus, if reintroduced animals become a problem, very little can be done about it. That is despite the fact that populations have recovered, and extinction is no longer a threat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are over 5,500 gray wolves across at least nine states, and they are naturally expanding into several others, including Colorado and California. But a federal proposal to remove gray wolves from the endangered list drew immediate opposition from, you guessed it, the Sierra Club.
Campaign organizers claim “the world’s most renown [sic] wolf biologists… agree that Colorado is the last, best place for wolves.” That is patently false. The world’s most renowned biologists on Colorado wildlife and habitat issues work for the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, and they have spoken.
Greg Walcher is former director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and a Western Slope resident.