The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund was created at the end of 2018 specifically to place an initiative on the November 2020 ballot regarding the reintroduction of the gray wolf into the state of Colorado, said Rob Edward, board president of the RMWAF.|
According to the ballot language, the reintroduction would take place by the end of 2023 and would occur on land west of the Continental Divide; however, not everyone supports the proposal, including the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners.
On Feb. 25, the BOCC approved a resolution officially declaring opposition to the ballot measure. Stan VanderWerf, the commissioner representing District 3, said the primary motivation for the resolution was the harm he and the other commissioners felt the wolves could do to the local economy.
“We have a huge tourism industry, and having those wolves in the mountain areas would do damage to that area,” VanderWerf said. “This ballot measure would mean introducing an apex predator. The hunters would have less to hunt because the deer, elk and moose populations would be negatively affected. Wolves, when they are hungry, will hunt horses and other livestock so there would be a negative impact on farmers and ranchers as well.”
Edward, who has been involved with policies to restore wolves in Colorado for more than 25 years, said 75 percent of the residents along the state’s Front Range and 60 percent living on the Western Slope support the ballot measure, with the exception of the ranchers.
“This is simply a new world versus old world issue, and we believe that it is time to restore wolves in order to restore the balance of nature,” Edward said.
VanderWerf argued that gray wolves are not native to Colorado but rather native to Canada and Alaska. He said it does not make sense to spend taxpayer money to introduce a species that is not native to the area, especially since taxpayers already paid to have wolves removed from the area a few years ago.
Additionally, VanderWerf said there is language in the initiative that would require the state to compensate livestock owners for any losses of livestock as a result of a gray wolf attack. He said the result could mean millions of dollars spent in compensation per year for such attacks, assuming ranchers could prove the loss was caused by a gray wolf.
However, VanderWerf said many ranchers do not have the time to gather enough evidence to provide the proof necessary for a such a claim, resulting in skewed data about how much livestock is truly lost to gray wolves.
“Some people in the state administration said there were not that many losses but that is not necessarily true because many of the ranchers just gave up,” he said.
Edward said counties in which gray wolves are currently present show that about 99.995 percent of their livestock has never been taken by a wolf.
“That is not to say that is not something we should be concerned about,” he said. “That is why there is a compensation component in the ballot language. We are not going to let ranchers suffer, and we are not going to go broke reimbursing them either. It is something we can work on.”
Considering the issue of a lack of deer, elk and moose for hunters, Edward said data indicates elk populations in the northern Rocky Mountains, where gray wolves were reintroduced about 25 years ago, are higher now than when the wolves were first introduced.
“Some of the maladies that we are seeing in elk and deer populations right now are probably exacerbated by the absence of wolves,” he said. “Wolves hunt by searching for infirmities in their prey, and that action is called coursing predation. They are not ambush predators. They test their prey, challenge them, start them moving and then they pick up on the most infinitesimally small infirmity and chase that animal until they can get it down. They are only successful about one out of every 10 times.”
VanderWerf said the numbers just do not add up for him and the other commissioners. Although the wolves will not initially be introduced to El Paso County, they will breed, the population will grow and it is likely only a matter of time before they reached this county, he said.
“It does not make sense from an economical point of view, and we did not want to face having to address hunting down wolves in El Paso County,” VanderWerf said.
Edward said the only way Colorado will ever have a sustainable population of wolves as it did before is to physically bring some of them to the state to diversify the population and put them in places where they can establish their own territories and their own packs.
“We know that it (reintroduction) works, we know that it can be done efficiently and economically,” he said. “The biology of it is well-established; all we need is the political will.”
Pull quote: “This is simply a new world versus old world issue, and we believe that it is time to restore wolves in order to restore the balance of nature.”
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On April 1, the El Paso County Master Plan Advisory Committee held a video conference meeting to discuss progress on the county’s master plan development process. Sean Tapia, associate planner, and John Houseal, principal planner, both with Houseal Lavigne Associates; as well as other various county employees were also present via video.|
The county hired Houseal Lavigne, a professional consulting firm specializing in community planning, urban design and economic development, to help construct the plan; and the firm presented their most recent changes to the plan, including the revised place-types document and map, the preliminary key areas list and the preliminary key areas map.
Tapia said place types define what each land area is and should be, essentially, the character of the space. The place types also describe what types of uses should be permitted in each land area, the infrastructure already in the area and transitions from one area to another, he said. In addition to the definitions, the master plan indicates on a map of the county where that place type is located, Tapia said.
The committee discussed the wording of some of the place types and the need to clearly distinguish each one to ensure the character of the land area is preserved, bearing in mind that each place type must be able to accommodate several land uses.
Houseal said the preliminary key areas are areas not defined by past planning boundaries but are unique areas in the county, with their own unique defining characteristics. Those characteristics should help guide future development and should be taken into consideration before development begins, he said.
“We have identified the preliminary key areas and defined generally how each is being used but we have not developed a text to guide future development or redevelopment,” Houseal said.
Tapia listed and then described the preliminary key areas, and presented the preliminary key areas map. The committee then discussed the pros and cons of the map and how it could be improved.
Craig Dossey, executive director of the EPC planning and development department, said the preliminary key areas can be used not only to determine opportunities for development, but also opportunities for annexation and areas to protect.
The committee discussed the idea of defining areas based on characteristics rather than character.
At the next meeting, which is still to be determined, Houseal Lavigne committed to bringing back a refined definition of the place types and key areas map. Additionally, the firm will introduce and discuss areas of change within the county; areas where the most change appears to be and areas where little to no change is perceived, he said.