Decisions about whether to release wolves should be made by wildlife experts, not the general public. That was the message delivered by Bonnie Brown, a Delta rancher and long-time executive director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association, during Sheep Day at the Colorado Farm Show.
Brown spoke on behalf of Coloradans Protecting Wildlife, a coalition of groups opposed to a November ballot initiative that calls for reintroducing wolves in western Colorado.
She implored the audience at the farm show to have conversations with friends and neighbors about the issue and to post information about the negative consequences on social media. Helpful facts and resources are available at www.RethinkWolves.com.
She also addressed a bill introduced by State Senator Kerry Donovan, a rancher from Edwards, which calls for suspending the reintroduction effort if Colorado is shown to have a "self-sustaining population."
The problem, Brown said, is it's not clear how a stable population would be defined.
"The goal posts on these types of definitions are always moving," she said. "We really don't want to get pulled into that."
She was also opposed to anything that legitimatizes what she called "ballot box biology" or implies a need for more study.
"Colorado Parks and Wildlife is highly respected by the public, and they have already studied this issue," she said.
On at least four separate occasions, the agency ruled against introducing wolves, Brown said.
In addition, coalition members like the wool growers, Colorado Cattlemen's and the Farm Bureau are already working with state Parks and Wildlife officials to develop a plan that includes necessary management strategies to ensure gray wolves that enter from other states are protected, without endangering other animals or people.
A reference in Donovan's bill to compensating losses incurred by "commercial livestock operations" also concerned Brown. All Coloradans should be compensated for wolf-related losses of horses or any other animals, she said.
Providing compensation, as well as monitoring and managing wolves, would amount to "a huge unfunded mandate," she said. Total costs could run as high as $6 million within just a few years, and that's a conservative estimate, she added.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife is already underfunded, she noted.
"The costs will fall on the taxpayers," she said.
The notion that releasing wolves would somehow re-balance the native ecosystem is "a fairy tale," according to at least one prominent ecology expert in Colorado, Tom Hobbs, a senior research scientist at CSU's Natural Resource Ecology Lab.
In fact, wolves threaten cherished wildlife such as moose and elk, Brown said. In Idaho, they've decimated the native caribou.
Rural voters are likely to understand the drawbacks, but it's people along the heavily populated Front Range who will determine the fate of the ballot initiative. That was a concern to many in the audience, including one man who wondered how city views would change if wolves were introduced in downtown Denver rather than just in remote rural areas.
Another was concerned the public is not getting an equal chance to hear both sides of the story.
Wolf proponents have spent $1 million supporting the measure, with about 90 percent of that money coming from out-of-state sources, Brown said.
Coloradans Protecting Wildlife is pushing back with its own campaign and seeking donations at www.ReThinkWolves.com.
Running a successful ballot initiative campaign is estimated to cost between $3 and $5 million, Brown said.