This fall, we’re likely to see a Colorado ballot initiative on the re-introduction of wolves into the state. One former wildlife commissioner thinks that’s a bad idea. I like wolves, but I’m inclined to agree with his stance here. Excerpt:
Rick Enstrom, former Colorado State Wildlife Commissioner from 2000 to 2008 and Chairman for three years is an expert on wolves in Colorado. Enstrom also served on the first wolf working group that developed the wolf plan for Colorado in 2004. He warned against the reintroduction measure in an interview with Complete Colorado on Thursday.
“You only have to look at what happened to the Wyoming elk population,” Enstrom said. “Their herds have been knocked back to 10 percent of what it was.”
“I know folks in Wyoming,” Enstrom continued. “The past director of the wildlife commission in Wyoming said there are two big problems; Grizzlies and wolves. ‘Don’t do it, don’t let it happen’ he said to me.”
Predation is hardly the only problem with wolves in Colorado says Enstrom. The biggest issue is money. The proposed initiative calls for wolf management and predation compensation to be paid out of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) wildlife cash fund “to the extent that they are available.”
The wildlife cash fund pays for all wildlife operations of CPW. It’s replenished primarily by hunting and fishing licenses, and it’s always over-budgeted says Enstrom.
Where compensation for livestock losses will come from when there is no money available in the wildlife cash fund is left unstated.
According to the state’s fiscal impact statement on the initiative, just setting up the program will cost nearly $800,000.
“There are two issues,” said Enstrom. “One is the effect on the people in the pickup trucks doing the Lord’s work for the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who are in short supply on both sides. The other big problem is that the funding structure is predicated on the sale of big game licenses.”
“That’s the money we [use to] manage everything, from greenback trout to Prebles meadow jumping mice to stocking trout, to the establishment of state wildlife areas and their management,” Enstrom said. “Any time you do anything to a budget they just start taking it out of other budgets because there is no extra money.”
Enstrom said the state Legislature is tired of allocating money to the CPW, which is supposed to pay its own way.
“We went back last year with a big increase again. When we sold that to the state legislature, there were more than a few legislators with their fingers in my chest saying, ‘don’t you ever come back here again.’”
And that’s the problem: Money.
Many years ago, I took an extended solo canoe trip through the Boundary Waters area in northern Minnesota and southern Ontario. It was a wonderful time, and one of the neater things was the number of nights I heard wolves singing somewhere out there in the woods.
But the wolves in the Boundary Waters area were already there. It’s a vast stretch of wilderness, and wolves belong there.
Colorado’s different. Much of the state is heavily settled now, and what isn’t housing is farmed and ranched; cattle even graze on the National Forest and BLM lands. Wolves would certainly have an impact on livestock and thus the livelihoods of ranchers, but the major expense of this idea would be the reintroduction and management itself, which as Enstrom points out, would put a major strain on the wildlife department which is supported almost completely by hunting and fishing license revenues.
Yes, wolves once lived in Colorado. Yes, human activity is why they don’t live there now. But this ballot initiative is misguided. Like many of its ilk, it’s based on emotion, not solid analysis of policy. As pro-wilderness as I am, I’ll vote no. We simply can’t afford it.