CCA: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing—How Wolf Recovery will Impact CO Ranchers
Wolves running in a pack through open fields and forests may seem a mythical sight to be seen—often romanticized in novels, movies, and by tourists alike—glimpsing creatures through binoculars from a guarded distance away in places like Yellowstone National Park. But for the people actually faced with living amongst the wolves, if they are reintroduced in Colorado, it conjures up a whole new reality entirely; it threatens their livelihood.
A study published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin analyzed three decades of U.S. and European public opinion polls, and found that people with the most positive attitude toward wolves had the least direct experience with them, which explains the divide in opinion between rural and urban Colorado. Indeed, the topic of the reintroduction of wolves has been buzzing across the state, and groups like the Sierra Club have been meeting and advocating for wolf recovery with little regard of how it will affect rural Colorado, specifically the state’s ranchers and farmers. “It is true that some surveys indicate many Coloradans support having wolves in our state,” the Colorado Parks and Wildlife stated in a recently published article. “Unfortunately, the costs of living with predators are not borne by most our citizens. Agricultural producers and sportsmen will bear the brunt of the cost. For this reason and many others based in best available science, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission adopted a resolution affirming opposition of the intentional release of any wolves into Colorado,” the article stated.
Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) works diligently to advocate for its members, and understands there will be a high-level conflict between wolf populations and domestic livestock and the state’s wildlife, not to mention risk for wolf and human contact. In fact, in states like Wyoming where reintroduction efforts are being implemented, many ranchers have not been satisfied with the resolution of conflict. For example, those who conjured the notion of reimbursement of market value for an animal lost to wolves do not take into consideration the loss of reproduction or the economic loss experienced from severe stress disorders that cattle, sheep and horses suffer due to exposure to wolves. Furthermore, ranchers are not interested in compensation for livestock losses. “We are not raising these animals to be savagely killed by wolves, often for sport. So not only do these reimbursement programs not work, they are unwanted,” CCA’s Executive Vice President, Terry Fankhauser said.
An article published in the Spokesman Review highlighted these exact concerns during an interview in 2013 with local Wyoming ranchers. One said when she “applied for compensation for a confirmed wolf kill from a Defenders of Wildlife Program, she got a letter back questioning whether the ranch was ‘purposefully enticing the wolves’.” Another rancher in the area said that he started noticing wolves on his property seven years ago. Before the wolves appeared, he would usually lose a handful of calves every year to natural causes or black bears and now he’s losing 25 calves. “Each calf is worth about $800. If wolves take 20, that’s $16,000,” he said. Stories like these will become a scary reality for rural Colorado if the reintroduction is approved, and it will not only affect the wellbeing of herds, but also pose a threat to the safety of family pets.
Sheila Daley, CCA member and member of the Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association, has heard first-hand just how big of a threat wolves pose to livestock and animals in their path. “Wolves are also a threat to the working dogs and other livestock, including horses. I have friends in Oregon who had an adult horse killed by wolves in their pasture. They have had several wolf ‘depredations’, as it is now called; and in one specific incident, a calf was killed right behind one of their buildings. Most of the hindquarter was eaten and it was taking its last breath as my friend showed up…and only then did the wolf run off. That is how bold they have become—they travel right into the ranch buildings,” Daley recounted.
In comparison to the potential herd devastation ranchers could be facing, the wolf population is booming and will soon be delisted federally due to their population explosion. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), “the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population as a whole continues to be self-sustaining, with numbers well above federal management objectives. Wolves have continued to expand their range westward into Oregon, Washington, northern California and Nevada,” meaning Colorado isn’t even needed to assist in this species propagation.
Groups that advocate for wolf recovery are mostly driven by the faulty assumption that the presence of the wolf is necessary for a healthy ecosystem function. However, any healthy ecosystem has the capability of adapting to the constant change under which it exists. The wolf’s void was filled decades ago in Colorado, and to attempt reintroduction today would harm the very animals that some advocates proclaim need increased protection.