No sheep’s clothing needed: Colorado reintroduces five gray wolves

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In an effort to restore an endangered species, Colorado just released five gray wolves in the western part of the state.

On Monday, Colorado parks and wildlife released two female and three male wolves on to remote public land. The predators were captured and brought over from Oregon, after Wyoming, Idaho and Montana refused to share their wolves citing interstate migration and financial concerns.

In a 2020 ballot measure, Colorado residents voted to reintroduce the species after it was eradicated due to government-funded killing programs.

“For the first time since the 1940s, the howl of wolves will officially return to western Colorado,” Governor Jared Polis said in a statement.

The plan to restore the endangered population was met with support from conservationists but opposition from ranchers and rural communities, who see wolves as a threat to livestock and hunting.

“Most ranchers won’t experience direct conflict with wolves, but some will,” said Kevin Crooks, director of the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence at Colorado State University, in a statement to the Guardian. “For those individual ranchers, when wolves kill, chase, or stress their livestock, the economic and emotional impacts can be considerable, affecting their livelihood and well-being. It is important to work with residents in the state to help them prepare for living with wolves.”

The state will compensate ranchers with up to $15,000 for every domesticated animal lost to wolves. Gray wolves are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act in Colorado, but only as an “experimental population”. This allows wildlife officials to kill wolves that threaten livestock.

“We’ll continue releasing animals based on our plan to have wolves not just survive but thrive in Colorado as they did a century ago,” said Jeff Davis, director of Colorado parks and wildlife in a statement.

Five more wolves are set to be released in the same area of Colorado’s western slope in the coming months. The repopulation plan calls for 30 to 50 wolves to be reintroduced in the next five years.

“This event is historic not just because of its ecological and conservation significance, but also because it marks the first time voters decided to reintroduce a native species,” said Becky Niemiec, director of the Animal-Human Policy Center at Colorado State University, in a statement to the Guardian. “Wolf reintroduction in Colorado is happening because many Colorado voters want wolves on the landscape – they want wolves as part of the ecosystem and have strong emotional and cultural connections to this species.”

Last week, two ranching groups filed lawsuits in an attempt to halt the release of gray wolves. On Friday, a federal judge voted to go forward with the reintroduction plan.

Efforts to restore the gray wolf population come amid the accelerating extinction crisis and wildlife loss. This October, the US Fish and Wildlife Service removed 21 species from the endangered list due to extinction. Most of the lost species are Hawaiian birds that couldn’t withstand diseases carried by invasive mosquitoes.


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