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.”…