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Wildlife Management Plans Running Behind

As a Colorado native, I embrace the return of wolves to Colorado. Unfortunately, state wildlife agencies are preoccupied with the reintroduction of the species and failed to account for the natural return of these predators. It is a situation that can be defused with some leadership and cooperation among stakeholders.

I grew up in Southwest Colorado on a couple of small ranches. I worked for the National Cattlemen’s Association in Denver. Colorado and other states have made great sacrifices for livestock producers over the past century. Agriculture now generates $47 billion annually and employs more than 195,000 people across the state. I see several sides to the issue. With more than 2.6 million head of cattle and $4 billion in annual revenue, beef is Colorado’s top agricultural product. The industry can afford to give a little back to the land and the people of Colorado, but it shouldn’t come on the back of a few small livestock producers.

State and federal agencies set this mess in motion by exterminating our wolves to support an emerging livestock industry almost 100 years ago. State and federal agencies are still spending millions of dollars to kill America’s predators for livestock producers. This money should be spent to compensate ranchers for losses instead of paying USDA’s Wildlife Services and other agencies to eliminate possible threats.

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In the age of global warming, climate change, wildfires and drought, we must be smarter with our natural resources. Wildlife demands compassion, not more conflict.

Predators and their food sources have been disrupted in many ways thanks to wildfires and drought, which are causing severe stress and extreme behavior. In the wake of record heat, drought and wildfires, this winter will likely take a severe toll on wildlife populations across the West. Many predators will be pushed into new areas to survive, including more cities and towns. Predator migration isn’t just a rural issue. Colorado needs a plan to address wildlife migration now, especially as it relates to predators. Killing all that encroach on private property isn’t the answer.

Land use is now one of the most vital issues of our time. Livestock production is no exception:

  • It requires mass quantities of scarce resources, including water and grain that could otherwise feed people.
  • Livestock production generates tons of methane—a potent greenhouse gas.
  • Agricultural expansion is pushing endangered species around the world into extinction. Consumers are as guilty as the producers.
  • Thousands of cattle are turned loose on out mountains for below-market grazing. This subsidy is anti-competitive since it only benefits a few privileged cattle producers. Many of these cattle are abandoned on our public lands where they trash the watershed throughout the year.

Agriculture as a whole must be more responsible and accountable to meet the demands of a changing world. For example, it might make sense to turn some of these ranches in wolf country into carbon farms to eliminate conflicts with recovering wildlife populations. Hunting guides should at least add wolf-watching tours to their list of offerings. I know hundreds of people that are eager for an opportunity to see the first wolves back in Colorado.

Meanwhile, predator conservation across the American West remains a political piñata. A federal court restored protections for wolves across most of the United States last week, except for the northern Rockies. In Montana, on the border of Yellowstone National Park, hunters and trappers have eliminated an entire wolf pack. About one of every five Yellowstone wolves alive at the end of last summer is now dead. This area demands immediate protection. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wrote the following public statement, which appeared in USA Today last week.

Wolves Demand More Protection

By Deb Haaland, U.S. Department Of The Interior Secretary

Since time immemorial, wolves have lived alongside Indigenous peoples and have represented the virtues of healing, strength and familial protection. In many tribes, they are honored in traditional ceremonies and revered in storytelling.

Even today, I feel the embrace of my ancestors reminding me why our nonhuman relatives deserve respect – because the creator put them here to live.

For centuries, wolves have been exploited for their furs, killed in the name of protecting people, livestock and game species and nearly eliminated through government-sponsored actions. Decades of hard work by states, tribes and stakeholders on the ground, along with federal protections, successfully recovered gray wolves after two centuries of decline to the brink of extinction.

As secretary of the Interior, I am committed to ensuring that wolves have the conservation they need to survive and thrive in the wild based on science and law. I am also committed to keeping communities safe and reducing wolf conflicts with ranchers. It is critical that we all recognize that our nation’s wolf populations are integral to the health of fragile ecosystems and hold significant cultural importance in our shared heritage.

We are alarmed by recent reports from Montana, where so far this season nearly 20 gray wolves that set foot outside of Yellowstone National Park have been killed. This happened because the state recently removed longstanding rules in areas adjacent to the park, which were effective in protecting Yellowstone wolves that do not recognize boundary lines on a map.

We have communicated to state officials that these kinds of actions jeopardize the decades of federal and state partnerships that successfully recovered gray wolves in the northern Rockies.

The law requires that states uphold reserved tribal treaty rights. Therefore, in the case of the Ojibwe Tribes in Wisconsin, the Interior Department formally requested that the state consult and coordinate with the tribes when making wolf management decisions and respect the tribes’ right to conserve rather than kill wolves. We will take similar actions on behalf of other tribes where necessary.

Finally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authority under the Endangered Species Act to protect threatened and endangered species. Thanks in large part to this bedrock environmental law, gray wolves recovered from near extinction to current numbers that exceeded expectations. Because of the gray wolf’s recovery, individual states are responsible for its welfare and sustaining that recovery. Nevertheless, we will reinstate federal protections under the ESA for the northern Rocky Mountains’ gray wolf, if necessary.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating whether a re-listing of the northern Rocky Mountains’ gray wolf population under the Endangered Species Act is necessary.

Recent laws passed in some Western states undermine state wildlife managers by promoting precipitous reductions in wolf populations, such as removing bag limits, baiting, snaring, night hunting and pursuit by dogs— the same kind of practices that nearly wiped out wolves during the last century. In response, last September the Fish and Wildlife Service began a 12-month analysis to determine, guided by science and the law, whether reinstating ESA protections is warranted.

We also have the ability to act swiftly to protect gray wolves if science indicates that there is an emergency posing a significant risk to the well-being of the species. In such an emergency, the Fish and Wildlife Service can immediately list the species for 240 days. We are closely monitoring data on wolf populations and will make those determinations if merited using the best available science.

Gray wolf recovery has been an American conservation success story. The continued recovery of gray wolves depends on the cooperation of wildlife managers at the state, tribal and federal levels, and a reliance on the best available science to guide management decisions. The clock is ticking. We must find solutions that allow wolves to flourish, even while we balance the needs of hunters and ranchers and others who live and work along with wolves on the landscape.

My Pueblo ancestors taught me to live with courage, respect our ecosystems and protect our families – the very same virtues that wolves embody. From our public lands to our vast oceans, and all the creatures that live within them, I will continue to work hard for our nation’s wildlife and its habitats, because we were meant to all coexist on this earth – the only place we all call home.

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Gary Chandler is the CEO of Crossbow Communications. He is the author of 11 books about health and environmental issues from around the world. He also is the author of the Language and Travel Guide To Indonesia.

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Author: Gary Chandler

Author, Consultant. CEO of Crossbow Communications. Colorado native. Arizona transplant.

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