The Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners continues to oppose gray wolf reintroduction into the Western Slope, a plan narrowly approved by Colorado voters in November.
Commissioners passed a resolution March 23 titled “Making Montezuma County A Sanctuary From Wolf Reintroduction.”
The nonbinding resolution is a position statement that claims bringing wolves to the county threatens the livestock industry, poses a danger to the local economy and could transmit diseases to pets and humans.
It notes the measure narrowly passed in Colorado by a vote of 51% to 49%, and that only five of the 22 counties on the Western Slope where they will be relocated approved Proposition 114. The measure puts into action a plan to reintroduce wolves by December 2023.
Exactly where on the Western Slope the wolves will be released is yet to be determined by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
In Montezuma County, 63% of voters were against bringing back wolves, and 37% were for it.
The county resolution says that “predation by wolves of wildlife and domestic livestock is an issue that the voters of Montezuma County did not approve. Montezuma County is a sanctuary from the artificial and intentional introduction of wolves. Lands designated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for reintroduction must not include Montezuma County.”
The resolution also sites another nonbinding resolution passed by the county in 2014 that prohibits introducing non-native animal species into the county. It was intended as a statement against the potential of relocating of the threatened Gunnison sage grouse into the county.
In an interview Wednesday, commissioner Joe Stevenson said the main concern is that Southwest Colorado is not open enough country for the wolves to live and avoid conflicts with people.
“A big concern is that wolves will follow migrating deer and elk into the valleys where people are living, and cause problems,” he said.
Ranchers also were concerned that compensation programs would not be sufficient to pay for livestock lost during wolf predation.
Grazing allotments deep in the San Juan National Forest are at risk from wolves if they arrive, Stevenson said, because cattle and their young could become prey.
“I feel they are setting up wolves for failure. This country is not large enough to hold wolves. It’s different than Wyoming or Montana, where they can be put hundreds of miles into the backcountry away from people.”
In a Jan. 26 letter to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, the Montezuma County Commission requested that planning for reintroduction not be rushed.
“We feel we need more public outreach on the Western Slope for our citizens and livestock’s safety regarding the long-range management of wolves within our communities,” the letter states.
The letter says citizens are concerned about the decline in mule deer and elk populations, and the impact wolves will have on big game recovery efforts.
The letter continues:
“We need to see leadership outreach from the State of Colorado to explain the wolf management strategy. We also need to see a strong effort to educate Western Slope residents on living with wolves in the future.
“Public buy-in on this program can be difficult. The State of Colorado needs to implement this recovery very carefully and with robust public participation and education on the Western Slope. The reintroduction of an apex predator is both exhilarating and very concerning at the same time. We believe it will take some effort and time to get the public accustomed to seeing wolves on the landscape without creating panic, or worse, harassing or killing wolves.”
Advocates defend wolfProponents of wolf reintroduction, including the San Juan Citizens Alliance, based in Durango, point out the ecological benefits of restoring the predator prey balance in the wilderness.
“From an ecological standpoint, wolves belong here. And the science is clear: We can manage their introduction effectively,” states the environmental group’s website.
For example, wolves reduce overgrazing in meadows and stream banks by elk, which tend to spend more time seeking cover in deeper woods if wolves are around. Healthier riparian areas improve wildlife habitat and water quality. Wolves also improve herd health by culling out sick and diseased deer and elk. Many species, including bears, scavengers, and birds, rely on the carcasses killed by wolves to survive. Proponents say bringing wolves to Colorado will improve genetic resiliency and diversity of the U.S. wolf population.
Regarding risks to ranching, wolf advocates claim mitigation efforts such as guard dogs, range management, more cowboys with herds, and hazing methods limit livestock predation.