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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Monday, January 11, 2016

So of course the majority of Ranchers at last weeks Colorado session on potential Wolf restoration are against the idea of lobos returning to the state...................With 280,000 Elk in Colorado and each Wolf normally killing about 22 a year, there should be no fear of Elk going extinct......."“I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet that’s quite as smart as thousands of years of evolution in deciding who and what is important and who and what is not important"................Wolves are an important part of the ecosystem"................... "They evolved with prey species, and prey species evolved with wolves, and when we remove an important part of the ecosystem, that has been there for tens of thousands of years, we can expect, and have seen and witnessed, dramatic and negative ecological impacts"-----Delia Malone(Sierra Club Ecologist)

Local ranchers voice opposition at wolf reintroduction presentation

by Collin Szewczyk, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

More than 100 attend Naturalist Nights at Carbondale’s Third Street Center
Area ranchers came out in numbers to adamantly oppose the idea of wolf reintroduction in Colorado during a standing-room-only presentation on the subject Wednesday evening in Carbondale.

Citing concerns to their finances, safety and livelihood, many in the crowd balked at the message provided by ecologist Delia Malone during a Naturalist Nights presentation entitled, “Should Gray Wolves be Restored to Colorado?” at the Third Street Center.

Malone, wildlife team chairperson at the Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Chapter, spoke to a crowd of more than 100 about the history of wolves in Colorado, the successful reintroduction of the species to Yellowstone National Park, and methods ranchers could employ to keep their livestock off the menu should the apex predators be returned to the state.

“I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet that’s quite as smart as thousands of years of evolution in deciding who and what is important and who and what is not important,” Malone said. “Wolves are an important part of the ecosystem. They evolved with prey species, and prey species evolved with wolves, and when we remove an important part of the ecosystem, that has been there for tens of thousands of years, we can expect, and have seen and witnessed, dramatic and negative ecological impacts.”

Quotes from University of Wisconsin scientist, author, and conservationist Aldo Leopold were intertwined into the narrative. While with the U.S. Forest Service, Leopold was sent to New Mexico to hunt and kill mountain lions, bears and wolves, but found that ecosystems were healthier with these keystone predators playing their roles.

Perfect storm leads to conflict

Malone noted that wolves are crucial to a healthy biodiversity in Colorado’s wildlands, adding that the ecosystem was first altered by market hunting during the Gold Rush in the late 1850s that all but eliminated elk from the state.

They were later reintroduced in the 1920s, but this initial lack of game drove Colorado’s wolves to pursue another meal: livestock.

“At that same time ranchers also brought in cattle, and that set up a perfect storm,” Malone said. “These are predators that have lived for tens of thousands of years dependent on prey species. … But in the blink of an eye, their prey was gone, and all of the sudden to replace them were sheep. So what did they do? They turned to cattle and sheep.”

Malone said there are now 280,000 elk in Colorado, more than enough for wolves to prey upon, adding that a wolf eats about 22 elk per year on average.

Malone said the myth that wolves “kill for fun” comes from situations where people stumble upon a partially eaten kill. She said wolves can only eat 20 pounds of meat at a time and leave the carcasses to sleep it off and return, but added that a wolf will not return to a kill if humans have been to that spot.

Wolves were wiped out in Colorado during the mid-1930s, but once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the western U.S. The last Colorado wolves were killed in the early 1940s.

Ranchers question presentation figures

The majority of the presentation proceeded quietly, until a section including statistics on livestock kills upset some attendees.

Things got testy when ranchers in the audience pounced on a discrepancy in figures related to wolf depredation, with one man yelling out “liar.”

One slide noted that 172 total sheep and lambs had been documented as killed by wolves in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho during 2014. The next slide showed that 200 were killed by wolves in Montana, along with 13,200 by coyotes, 300 by domestic dogs, and 700 by bald eagles the same year.

Those figures were rounded to the nearest hundred, but Malone said she didn’t have an answer for the discrepancy and that the numbers came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Malone added the top predator in livestock kills in the Rockies is the coyote, and that wolves will kill them.

“Coyotes are fine in appropriate numbers,” she said. “They are not so fine when they don’t have an apex predator like a wolf controlling their numbers.”

According to a USDA statement from last February, Colorado farmers and ranchers lost 50,000 head of sheep and lambs to all causes in 2014, representing a total value of $10 million. This was out of an overall estimated population of 365,000 and 420,000 animals.

Predators were cited in 18,800 of the deaths, amounting to $3.8 million in losses.

“Coyotes … were responsible for 56 percent (10,600 head valued at $2.13 million) of the total sheep and lamb losses to predators,” the document noted.

Bears were next in line, claiming 4,200 animals, followed by mountain lions (1,100) and foxes (700). The majority of sheep and lamb deaths were from non-predator-related causes and weather.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife reimburses ranchers for livestock killed by bears and lions in the state, but not coyotes.

Malone went on to note that the state dishes out close to $900,000 a year in damage to farms and ranches, much of which is caused by elk. She said they would that be forced to move on from those areas if wolves were in the state and preying on them, saving the state money, and ranchers the headache.

Family structure important

Malone said that the science supports 1,000 wolves living in Colorado, which drew groans from some in the audience. She said the goal is to see a sustainable population of wolves in the state, a balanced healthy landscape, and viable ranching all at once.

The Sierra Club’s vision is for an ecologically effective recovery, ensuring that the genetic diversity is protected and the animals are managed with nonlethal methods.

 Collin Szewczyk/Aspen Daily News
Local rancher Jim Bair speaks with ecologist Delia Malone during a Naturalist Nights presentation entitled, “Should Gray Wolves be Restored to Colorado?” at the Third Street Center in Carbondale on Wednesday.

Malone said conflict avoidance measures include: corralling sheep at night; managing herds by keeping animals off the open range until they are older; deploying llamas within the herd; employing more range riders; and timing calving to mirror that of elk, so the wolves would be busy chasing the large ungulates.

She added that if wolves are raised in a traditional family structure, they will control their own populations and prey on wild animals over livestock. If the alphas are shot, however, then the juvenile animals would “go crazy” and get into trouble with humans, Malone added.

She compared the young wolves to teenagers with their parents out of town.

That led one man to say, “those are some pretty smart wolves. I don’t believe a word you’re saying.”

Rancher Bill McKee said he appreciated Malone’s heart on the subject. However, he said that a few ranches in wolf states are having some success with conflict avoidance keeping wolves at bay at “great expense.”

One unidentified woman added that she ran 1,000 head of sheep on a ranch next to Yellowstone with no wolf-related issues, though there were some problems with grizzly bears.

Opponents have their say

In a unified voice during the question and answer section, those opposed to wolf reintroduction slammed the idea of having the native animals brought back to the state.

Roz Turnbull of Carbondale cited Thompson Divide Coalition executive director Zane Kessler’s stance on oil and gas in the Divide, saying that extraction is appropriate in some places, but not all.

“We’ve spent a lot of money in Colorado saying oil and gas are not appropriate. I say to you I don’t think wolves are appropriate,” she said. “I think you really need to think that through. … I do not think we need wolves here, we are a much, much smaller area [than the other states with wolves].”

Turnbull and others said there are too many people in Colorado, and opined there would be conflicts with humans if wolves are brought back.

Local sheep rancher and outfitter Jim Bair called the presentation inconsistent, and said a sheep farmer told him about a wolf killing 176 ewes in one night in Montana in 2013.

“If wolves make it so great, we all should just pack up and run to where they have them,” he said. “The wolf didn’t eat them all, it ate about 10, but it just piled them up and suffocated them. To that rancher it doesn’t matter if they ate the whole thing or not.”

Sheep when frightened often will climb on top of each other, suffocating those below.

“Wolves are killing machines. That’s what they do,” Bair continued. “And if we think that wolves are going to stop when they are finished with the elk and deer, they will move on to the calves and sheep and dogs.”

He added that many mountain lion hunters in areas with wolves don’t release dogs because the wolves will eat them before they get to the cats.

Fellow rancher Craig Bair called wolves opportunists, comparing them to mountain lions.

“We had a mountain lion come into the herd about 22 years ago and kill 98 head,” he said. “That was back when Walt Disney was telling us they just eat the sick and the ones that are going to die anyway.”

Bair said it was a mother lion and her kitten and she was teaching it how to hunt. He said the CPW pays the ranch a lot of money for bear and lion depredation.

“It seems like we need to just get rid of all the people, get rid of the coyotes, and kill the elk and we’ve got it made,” he said to a round of laughter. “We’re blaming the wrong things here. The elk are not ruining the landscape.”

Carbondale cattle rancher Tom Turnbull said there would be a negative economic impact on the Roaring Fork Valley if wolves were brought back.

“You have no idea,” he said. “You’re talking about thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars this is going to cost the ranching community and the hunting community.”

New Castle sheep rancher Kevin Roberts said that the presentation didn’t factor in another apex predator: man.

“As an ecologist you left one major thing out of your equations, and that is the humans,” he said. “We are part of the ecosystem, whether you like it our not. And there are six million of us in the state.”

Malone contended that wolves have enough room to co-exist in Colorado, citing the Flat Tops, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre National Forest, and the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains as prime habitat.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of millions of acres where there’s no human development,” she said. “There is ample room.”

Lone voice for wolves

Only one audience member spoke up for wolves, saying that some of the the opponents have a “human superiority complex.”

Alicia Evans of Emma asked who in the crowd had actually dealt first-hand with a live wolf on their property, to which only two ranchers raised their hands (they said it happened in Montana, not Colorado).

“I have the utmost respect for humans, and the utmost respect for the animals,” she said. “A lot of what’s happened to us is we’ve been conditioned by a lot of propaganda and by our economics.”

Evans expressed respect for the ranchers’ opinions and livelihood, but opined that a creator put wolves here for a reason, and we’re suffering from a lack of tolerance.

“Every single thing on the planet has the right to exist,” she said. “If the wolves populated the planet, we would have a [strong] ozone layer. We would have healthy water and clean air. We wouldn’t have problems with the wolves, the wolves are not the problem. I think us humans actually have to start taking a look at what we’re doing.”

She added that her biggest fear would be people killing the wolves if they are brought back to Colorado.

The presentation ended after two hours, with an image of a wolf howling on the screen. Under it were the words: “Not demon, not idol, just wolf.”

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