Gray Wolves To Be Reintroduced To Colorado Following Unprecedented Vote
Colorado voters supported a move to reintroduce gray wolves into the state after they were previously hunted to extinction.
A state has never before voted on whether to reintroduce an animal to the ecosystem, but on Election Day, November 3, citizens in Colorado were faced with Proposition 114, which directed state wildlife managers to bring gray wolves back by 2024.
The results were close, with 1,495,523 votes supporting the move and 1,475,235 voting against it with 90% of the votes counted, and opponents conceded their loss on November 5 when the initiative was ahead by only 0.5%. Most of the remaining, uncounted cotes came from urban areas that strongly support the reintroduction of animals.
With the move given the go-ahead by the public, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department will lead the effort to establish a sustainable population of gray wolves beginning in 2022 or 2023.
Wolves used to thrive in the Southern Rocky Mountains, which is home to millions of acres of suitable habitat, and biologists believe the land could support several hundred wolves or more, National Geographic reports.
Jonathan Proctor, a conservationist with the group Defenders of Wildlife, which assisted the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund in passing the measure, said the reintroduction of the animals will ‘restore Colorado’s natural balance’.
Many ranchers and residents in rural areas expressed their disapproval of the move, with worries the wolves will kill livestock, but Proctor argued that there was a successful reintroduction of wolves to the Northern Rockies in the 1990s that resulted in an average of only one in 10,000 cattle in wolf-occupied counties being killed by the predators.
Opponents also objected the decision to allow voters to have their say on the matter, rather than leaving it to state wildlife officials.
Coloradans for Protecting Wildlife is one group that opposes the initiative, with spokesperson Shawn Martini pointing out that state biologists have previously declined to introduce wolves.
This is the first time that any species would be introduced via the ballot box, and there’s a reason it’s never been done before – direct democracy certainly has its limits.
In an effort to limit the fallout from the move, the Colorado initiative will fund a program to reimburse ranchers for any lost livestock.
Biologists working on the reintroduction program will also make it a priority to work with those in urban areas who will have to live alongside wolves, for example providing training and resources for ranchers to help prevent wolves from preying on cattle in the first place.
Gray wolves became extinct in Colorado before the 1940s as a result of widespread hunting, trapping and poisoning. They were placed on the Endangered Species List in the 1970s and were reintroduced by the federal government to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in 1995 and 1996.
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