Colorado turns cold shoulder to endangered wolves

Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioners’ stance opposing release of wolves complicates federal push to prevent wolf extinction

by By Bruce Finley  / The Denver Post

Trevor Starr holds his sign in support of the introduction of wolves into Colorado at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices on January 13, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. Protesters for and against a resolution to ban any introduction of wolves into Colorado, mainly the Mexican wolf. (Photo by Brent Lewis/The Denver Post) (Brent Lewis, The Denver Post)

Colorado wildlife commissioners took a stand Wednesday night opposing the release of wolves in the state, overriding a blitz by pro-wolf groups pressing for ecological benefits of predators.

Colorado’s new posture represents a pre-emptory challenge to court-ordered U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service efforts to save wolves, an endangered species.

Cattle and sheep industry leaders backed the resolution — commissioners voted 7-4 — banning release of both Mexican wolves and gray wolves.

Colorado still has a policy that it will take care of any wolf that wanders into the state on its own. The issue is intentionally releasing them.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioners said they wanted to support Gov. John Hickenlooper, who on Nov. 13 joined governors of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico in a letter telling Interior Secretary Sally Jewell they oppose Mexican wolf recovery efforts on land where Mexican wolves historically did not exist. That likely includes parts of southwestern Colorado that federal biologists are considering as habitat.

“This does not represent Coloradans. It does not serve Colorado,” WildEarth Guardians biologist Taylor Jones said. “And it is un-necessarily antagonistic to wolf recovery.”

Federal officials declined to comment. They’re not required to seek state blessings as they develop a Mexican wolf recovery plan by the end of 2017 to prevent extinction.

Hickenlooper’s concern was “with their process in developing a recovery plan,” spokeswoman Kathy Green said. That concern is separate, she said, from resolutions state parks and wildlife commissioners considered.

“We are pro wildlife,” state spokesman Matt Robbins said before commissioners heard from both sides.

But pro-wolf demonstrators doubted that, carrying signs and howling in front of commissioners’ facilities in Denver.

“We should kick out cattle. Wolves belong here,” said Kia Bridges of the Boulder Rad-ish Collective. “If you bring back a predator, it puts an ecosystem back the way it is supposed to be. It would get prey animals moving.”

Sierra Club regional wildlife team leader Delia Malone argued that “Colorado needs wolves and wolves need Colorado.” The Sierra Club proposed an alternative resolution: that Colorado should invite introduction of Mexican wolves and re-introduction of gray wolves on habitat in the state.

Colorado Cattlemen vice president Terry Fankhauser supported the state stance. “Colorado is not appropriate wolf habitat,” Fankhauser said.

“Our human population is too high. And the deer population here is not robust enough to support wolves, which would drive them to eat livestock and pets.”