My compliments to Jim Patterson for his “Crying Wolf” feature Sunday. It was well done and covered the basics of the issue. I appreciate this, because I’ve covered wolf recovery issues for Wyoming news media for much of the past decade.
I want to bring up some additional facts and perspectives, to give Steamboat Today readers a broader understanding of wolf management in the United States.
For example, there are about 4,000 wolves in the Great Lakes area, and the presence of wolves does not produce the sheer panic, fear and hatred that is common in Rocky Mountain communities. My research and interviews with wolf biology/policy experts in the Great Lakes states indicates that, because Great Lakes wolf populations were never eradicated, residents are accustomed to wolves and don’t get freaked out as the population of wolves has grown. There is an over-abundance of deer in those states, and plenty of prey for wolves. Predation on livestock has been minimal.
If wolves ever become established in Northwest Colorado — a matter of when, rather than if — they have some daunting challenges to overcome.
First, there’s the gauntlet to be run between protected ground in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the habitat of Northwest Colorado. Wyoming’s policy and cultural attitude about wolves comes down to protected status in the parks, permitted hunting in a buffer zone near the parks, then a kill zone in the rest of the state.
By kill zone, I mean kill them anywhere, anytime, by any means, by anyone, for any or no reason. That’s the official policy, which has not changed and has been repeatedly struck down in federal courts.
That policy, enunciated by the legislature, the governor and wildlife agency is a direct reflection of the core culture found in the agricultural community — known as the Three S’s:
Shoot wolves (or kill them by any other means).
Shovel them deep, hiding the evidence from the feds and environmentalists.
Shut-up about any wolf killings, aside from winks and nods at the coffee shop or bar.
I suspect the Three S’s have been in operation for some time in northwest Colorado. Informally, regional ag interests have no interest in having wolves set up in local forests or wilderness areas. Poisons, traps and rifles are all used on any young wolves, male or female, looking to find a new home and pack.
It really doesn’t have to be that way. Defenders of Wildlife has worked for decades on non-lethal techniques to discourage wolves from preying on livestock. Where ranchers and wool growers have adopted these non-lethal approaches, there have been encouraging success stories, with fewer deaths among livestock and wolves alike. Wolves do learn, and there are alpha wolves out there who avoid livestock and people, enforcing that avoidance among juveniles.
Techniques include the use of range riders, guardian dogs, electric fencing and estartlement tools such as bright lights, loud sounds and flapping strips of plastic called fladry.
It hasn’t been perfect, but neither has it been all-out war on wolves with excessive damage to wildlife and habitat. Yellowstone National Park has gone from being over-grazed by elk before wolf restoration, to healthier habitat and greater wildlife diversity with the return of wolves. It is called the trophic cascade effect by biologists. Generally, wolves can help create a healthier, more diverse habitat, without wreaking carnage on livestock flocks and herds. Maybe, Patterson could do a Sunday feature on non-lethal techniques.
Again, good job.