For over a thousand years, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood has taught children and adults that wolves can’t be trusted. They are cunning, vicious apex predators at the top of the food chain that have even taken down grizzly bears and mountain lions in Yellowstone.
In the pioneer era of Colorado and the American West, wolves were commonplace, feasting on the abundant wildlife. Our predecessors quickly learned that wolves not only preyed on deer and elk but also decimated cattle and sheep herds, occasionally attacking humans, too.
Not knowing — or, perhaps unwilling to accept — the lessons of our history, some progressive environmental activists have been advocating for the reintroduction of gray wolves, the largest and most vicious of wolf species. Now the movement has come to Colorado. If approved by voters in November, a ballot initiative would force the reintroduction of wolves in our state, too.
Unsurprisingly, a shadow group from San Francisco called Tides Center — funded at least in part by George Soros — is the biggest funder of the effort. Activists in the greater Denver urban metroplex gathered the vast majority of required petition signatures to qualify the question for the ballot from the cities along the I-25 corridor. Of course, they don’t want wolves released in their backyards. The drafters of the initiative made sure wolves would be foisted on the folks on the Western Slope.
The rural-urban divide in Colorado is deep. So, too is the reality that the abundance of the Colorado economy enjoyed in the cities is not transferrable to the sparsely populated parts of our state. Too often the folks that call rural Colorado home feel forgotten, insulted, misunderstood, and abused. This wolf reintroduction idea is yet another poke in the eye to the people on the land for whom the responsibility of true environmental stewardship is an everyday reality, and who cherish the opportunity and responsibility to care for a precious slice of this amazing place we are blessed to call home.
Our family operates a bison breeding ranch in Jackson County, a sparsely-populated ranching county commonly known as North Park near the Wyoming border. Recent news reports that wolves are already in northwest Colorado came as no surprise to local folks. My son spotted one just before sunrise about 100 yards from his back door several years ago. Overwhelmingly, ranchers and outdoorsmen oppose the wolf initiative. Presently, 30 Colorado counties have adopted resolutions in opposition to this ill-conceived initiative and there will be more. Wolves are already here and the population is expanding.
Three separate times — 1982, 1989, and 2016 — the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission studied wolf reintroduction and each time adopted formal positions in opposition. That doesn’t stop the radical activists who will likely never see nor hear the chilling howl of a wolf except on television.
To get an idea of what could happen, we don’t have to look far. Wolves were forcibly introduced into Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming 25 years ago. The stated objective was to establish ten breeding pairs in each state.
In Idaho, with abundant food supply and desirable habitat much like Colorado, the 35 wolves initially released thrived. The population exploded in numbers as well as geographically. Wolves are now dispersed across the entire state with at least 80 to 100 packs, as well as in parts of Washington, Oregon, and California. The current wolf population in Idaho alone is now estimated at 1,500 or more according to the LA Times.
Migration and grazing patterns of the elk and deer herds have been altered because of these apex predators. Half of the backcountry big game outfitters have closed their doors, according to the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association and those remaining report a 50% decline in business because the wildlife is gone.
Ranchers have documented thousands of animals lost to wolf predation. In a singular night-time raid, wolves attacked Jeff Siddoway’s sheep herd, stampeding them over a steep embankment and killing 176. While most kills are never officially autopsied, since wolf introduction in 1995, Idaho has confirmed 982 cattle; 3,150 sheep, 53 herd dogs, plus horses, llamas, mules, and goats lost to wolf predation.
Within a few short years, wolves rapidly multiplied, claimed ever expanded geographic habitat, and wreaked their havoc across Idaho. Then the inevitable happened. What started out with good intentions for a romanticized “endangered” apex predator came full circle. Rather than protected, the wolf became a despised target with a price on its head by their only predator — man. The fascination quickly evaporated with the over-population and predation.
Idaho now issues thousands of licenses to trap and hunt wolves and even offers a bounty incentive. Additionally, the USDA Wildlife Services dedicates 18 employees plus aircraft including helicopters to find and kill wolves. Yet, the population growth continues to outpace the number taken down. In the end, the wolf is slaughtered for doing what he was born to do, increase his numbers and kill.
A 2017 study by Oregon State University determined that cows subjected to wolf predation display physical signs associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, similar to soldiers from the terrifying experiences of war. “Wolf attacks create bad memories in the herd and cause a stress response known to result in decreased pregnancy rates, lighter calves, and a greater likelihood of getting sick,” said Reinaldo Cooke, an animal scientist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences who led the study. Fewer, smaller, sicker animals all translate to economic damages totaling tens of thousands of dollars for ranchers.
The threat is not limited to livestock. Despite claims to the contrary by wolf advocates, dozens of wolf attacks on humans have been documented. Matthew and Elisa Rispoli and their two young boys were asleep in their tent at a campground in the Banff National Park last August when a Canadian gray wolf tore through the tent, attacked the father and started to drag Matthew away.
“It was like something out of a horror movie,” Elisa, wrote in a Facebook post that was quoted by several media outlets. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly describe the terror.” The families’ screams awakened another camper nearby, who was able to help Matthew beat the wolf off. Fortunately, it was a solitary wolf and not an entire pack like the one photographed recently near the Colorado border with Utah and Wyoming.
Is this really what we want in Colorado? I don’t think so.
For the sake of all the people of Colorado, and ultimately for the sake of the wolf, too, please vote “no” on Initiative #107, Gray Wolf Reintroduction.
Bob Beauprez is a former U.S. Congressman, representing Colorado’s 7th congressional district and a bison rancher in Northern Colorado.