Elk NetworkAn Open Letter to Colorado & Utah RMEF Members about Wolves

Conservation | January 17, 2018

If you don’t know already, some active environmentalists and animal rights groups are seeking to place wolves in your backyard. A year ago, we warned it was a semi-quiet effort that would place Colorado’s elk, deer and moose populations in the crosshairs. Now the pro-wolf movement is scheduling public meetings and using the media to spread its message.

The groups behind this cause are many of the same sponsoring non-stop litigation across several states that either tried or are still trying to delay or deny state management of our wildlife, wolves included—Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, Wolves of the Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Wild Earth Guardians, etc. 

As they present their case to Coloradans, they use the same terms and phrases over and over to try to boost their claims. RMEF wants to offer you scientific research and information for you to consider and make up your own minds.  Much has been learned from the wolf reintroduction in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem; much about wolves and much about the rhetoric of those who promote them outside of state-based management.

Claim #1: Trophic Cascade = Presence of Wolves Automatically Benefits Biodiversity
This is their most popular argument that claims ecosystems are healthier simply because of the wolves’ presence. They claim once elk are moved out of riparian areas that willows, beavers, songbirds, fish, aspens and other species “come back.” The scientist behind the trophic study they herald maintained wolves made elk more skittish and less likely to browse. He also stated in his abstract “Our conclusions are based on theory involving trophic cascades.” 

In reality, a study carried out by a University of Wyoming researcher in the same Yellowstone location as the work above refuted trophic cascade. His findings show the presence of wolves did not simply trigger a trickledown effect that benefits all of nature.

Claim #2: Willows & Aspens Rebound after Wolf Reintroduction
In reality, a scientist with the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center conducted hydrology research on riparian systems after the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction. Her findings indicate reintroducing wolves does not restore an ecosystem to the way it was prior. A Yale ecologist at the time and Yellowstone elk migration researcher, Dr. Arthur Middleton, also said that research disproves the simple version of trophic cascade. 

Claim #3: Beavers Return after Wolf Reintroduction
In reality, beavers are found in Yellowstone today primarily because of man-made reintroduction efforts. Research shows 129 beavers were reintroduced with radio transmitters on them from 1986 to 1999 in the Yellowstone headwaters and they made their way into the park from there. 

Claim #4: Wolves Do Not Result in Conflict with People and Livestock
In reality, 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. According to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the reimbursement of market value for an animal lost to wolves does 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.

Other Factors
Colorado is already on Record as Opposing Wolf Reintroduction
In a 7-4 vote in January 2016, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Commission approved a resolution regarding the reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves by stating it “opposes the intentional release of any wolves into Colorado.” This decision stems from the professional opinions and consensus of CPW’s biologists.

“Wolves are welcome to our state if they come naturally,” Matt Robbins, CPW’s public information officer, was quoted at the time. “If there was a stray wolf to enter our borders, then it would be welcome. It is if they are intentionally released — if someone was to bring wolves in and drop them off, ‘You now have a pack of wolves in Colorado’ — therein lies an issue for us.”

Moving the Goalposts
The environmental groups named above habitually show that once the wolf is reintroduced, they ignore the delisting criteria after populations meet minimum recovery levels that would place them under state management. The original recovery goals for wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were 100 wolves and 10 packs per state. (Idaho and Montana bumped those numbers up to 150 wolves and 15 packs.) Once wolf populations met recovery criteria, environmental groups filed a minimum of 15 lawsuits to stop delisting, in essence, moving the goalposts. Litigation is still active in the Great Lakes region. 

Southern Colorado Elk Recruitment 
Reintroducing wolves would have a detrimental impact on elk herds such as those in southern Colorado already dealing with downward recruitment patterns (less elk being born) over the last two decades.  

Utah Will Be Next
Placing wolves in western Colorado’s landscape will certainly lead to wolves migrating to Utah and other border states. Wolves do not recognize borders and studies show they will travel hundreds of miles as their populations grow and they disseminate.

Wildlife Management & Science
Those supporting wolf reintroductions will use the federal courts and judges as opposed to subscribing to empirical science. If subject to federal lawsuits, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will lose the ability to manage its wildlife.

Elk Population Health
The documented population of Yellowstone’s Northern Herd dropped 80 percent from 1994, the year before wolf reintroduction, to less than 4,000 in 2012. Wolves have measurable impacts on elk, moose and other prey species in Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming. 

The Bottom Line

  • Science –not emotion or argument or debate– must take the lead in governing wildlife management practices. This science must come from the wildlife professionals who manage Colorado’s wildlife, not federal courtrooms, lawyers and those with other agendas.
  • Lessons learned from the Greater Yellowstone wolf reintroduction should be heeded in considering the long-term future of Colorado’s wildlife. 
  • Those who promoted the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction have displayed a substantial lack of good faith and integrity in the establishment of recovery goals and wolf management tools. 
  • Wolves are not endangered. There are an estimated 72,000-75,000 across the United States and Canada.
  • The argument that wolves must be returned to their “once native ranges” is unrealistic as man is here now in large proportions; man must manage wildlife. There are multiple species of animals that do not exist in their once native ranges; this is a reality we all must live with today.

Please become educated, raise your voice, write letters to the editor, contact your legislative representatives and use social media and whatever means you can to speak up on behalf of elk and other wildlife.