Five years ago, a lone wolf found himself in Colorado, over a thousand miles away from home, and was killed on I-70. Earlier this year, a new female made her way to our mountains, but she also died within weeks. Wolves are still endangered, yet officials in the Northern Rockies, particularly Yellowstone, are pronouncing success – apparently enough to allow hunting this fall. The Obama administration affirmed a plan to resume wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana this year, originally a product of the Bush administration.
Consider the numbers: a century ago, wolves dominated the West, with an estimated 500 individuals in Yellowstone alone, but they were completely exterminated by the mid-1900s. In 1995, a controversial plan reintroduced 14 wolves to Yellowstone, with low expectations. Now, just 15 years later, approximately 1500 wolves can be found in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, with about 150 total in Yellowstone. Even though this is just a fraction of the original numbers, state officials are considering it a “population boom” which is now growing out of hand. The plan is to ultimately reduce the numbers to 600.
600 wolves, 3 states. Ecosystems already struggling to hold together will soon have less than half as many wolves to maintain the balance between predator and prey.
What does this mean for Colorado? Due to the lack of predators in the mountains, prey populations, particularly elk, have been a significant problem. One solution which has yet to find enough public support is to reintroduce both Mexican and grey wolf “trial” populations into Rocky Mountain National Park. However, Colorado is officially at a standstill. While refusing to officially fund a reintroduction program, claiming it is too difficult to maintain due to herd migration and the associated risks of predators to livestock, children and pets, state officials claim they will protect whatever wolves happen to wander down to Colorado.
It’s a good idea in theory, but the only two wolves known to have managed the thousand mile trip still died within months.
– Liz Grogan