DENVER -- Sunday marked 25 years since wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, and wildlife advocates are hoping Colorado voters will consider the programs' success when deciding on Initiative 107 on the November ballot.
The measure would direct Colorado Parks and Wildlife to create a plan to reintroduce wolves by December 2023. Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director with Defenders of Wildlife, said the work in Yellowstone offers a blueprint for bringing the predator back to its historic habitat.
"We have 25 years of experience and data and facts to understand the benefits of wolf restoration to the northern Rockies," Proctor said. "We can use those lessons learned and finish the job here in the southern Rockies."
Some hunters oppose the measure, citing concerns about the potential loss of elk. But Proctor said after wolves returned to Wyoming, elk populations actually increased, and hunters had higher success rates. He said wolves restore a natural balance between predator and prey, and entire ecosystems. They keep elk moving instead of clustering around waterways, which protects fish habitat and keeps watersheds clean.
Ranchers also have voiced concerns about the potential loss of livestock. Proctor said livestock loss in Yellowstone and Idaho since wolves were reintroduced turned out to be just one tenth of 1% of herd numbers. He added Initiative 107 would include compensation for ranchers.
"And although we expect the losses to be very, very small in the region of Colorado, if we compare that to what's happened in the northern Rockies over the past 25 years, those losses are real to individual ranchers, and we should take that very seriously," he said.
He said ranchers in Wyoming are also ready to share strategies that have helped them avoid losses altogether. Proctor pointed to a recent survey showing two-thirds of Colorado voters support reintroducing wolves, and said most people understand that bringing wolves back would benefit all of the region's inhabitants.