A lone black heifer wailed, wandering into white mist as night fell across a sage-studded plateau in the middle of where a wolf pack has moved into northwestern Colorado.
Rancher T. Wright Dickinson looked on, frowning, aggrieved — an arch conservative westerner whose family has run cattle here since 1885 on high country spanning three states that ranks among the last large open landscapes.
He’d turned this heifer loose for grazing through spring-fed meadows where deer, pronghorn antelope and elk roam. It’s destined to be beef for city dwellers who shop at Whole Foods but, for now, Dickinson emphasized, a moral duty obligates him to protect his herd.
“They are vulnerable,” he said. “We’re very concerned about how this relationship with wolves is going to be.”
The goodwill of ranchers like Dickinson, main tenants in still-wild parts of the West and key players in preserving open space, looms as a casualty in the push to re-establish wolves in Colorado.
Bolstering the six wolves that arrived on their own, voters concentrated in cities — Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Boulder — are poised this November to order state officials to introduce an unspecified number more. Gov. Jared Polis has declared he’s “honored to welcome our canine friends back.”
Colorado’s statewide wolf-reintroduction ballot initiative is rankling rural communities, rekindling old conflicts over the purpose of public lands. It’s straining the hard-won partnership that ensures, if not pure nature, the conservation of open landscapes in the face of Colorado’s population growth and development boom.
Nowhere has this initiative hit stiffer resistance than here in northwestern Colorado, where residents cling to ranching and elk hunting as coal mining dies due to climate concerns, another imposition by wolf-friendly urban liberals, residents contend, who want to remake the place as an ecosystem preserve.
Colorado’s Initiative 107: Restoration of Gray Wolves is expected to pass — one poll shows 84% statewide support despite opposition from two dozen county commissions — widening wolves’ western comeback after federal agencies reintroduced them in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho starting in 1995, following extirpation before 1940. Federal records now show more than 6,000 wolves in the Lower 48 states.
starting in 1995, following extirpation before 1940. Federal records now show more than 6,000 wolves in the Lower 48 states.
State wildlife biologists would be required to install wolves on public land west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023, enough to ensure wolf survival, with public input and compensation for ranchers who lose livestock. The wording of the ballot measure enshrines proponents’ view that wolves were “an essential part of the wild habitat of Colorado” before extermination and must be restored to bring back “a critical balance in nature.”
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