Ideas. Stories. Community.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wolves Poised To Make A Comeback In Colorado After Passage Of Prop 114

John and Karen Hollingsworth

Colorado voters have decided to bring back a wild animal that was eradicated from the state in the 1940s because of the threats it posed to livestock and ranchers’ livelihoods.

But don’t expect to hear a gray wolf howl on Colorado’s West Slope just yet.

Following the narrow passage of Proposition 114, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will now spend the next three years coming up with a plan for how to reintroduce the animals by 2023.

The planning process will include public hearings to help determine how many wolves will be released in Colorado, and where.

Supporters of the reintroduction effort say the wolf’s return will benefit the landscape.

“We know, from decades of science now, that gray wolves are the engine of ecologic health and evolution for systems they have been part of for millennia,” Prop 114 supporter Rob Edward said during the campaign. “And because they were eradicated in the early 1900s because of a particular group, we’ve seen the ecological effects of not having wolves in the landscape.”

Edward said when wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s, trout and songbird populations increased as the apex predator helped restore a balance to the area.

But not everyone backed the idea of bringing wolves back to Colorado.

Several ranchers opposed the move, saying they are already seeing more issues from an increasing number of predators on the West Slope ranging from bears to mountain lions.

“I think we’ll see some hard times when wolves make a stand here in Northwest Colorado,” said Marsha Daughenbaugh, who ranches in the Elk River valley near Steamboat Springs. “If we want to return to a balance, then we also need to get rid of a lot of condos and airports and golf courses and lots of things that are manmade before we bring wolves into areas that are being hit for agricultural reasons and also for recreation.”

Wyoming offers Coloradans some clues as to what it will be like for the state to manage a new wolf population.

Wyoming and federal land managers spent almost $2 million last year managing an estimated 311 wolves.

The wolves killed 42 cattle and 27 sheep last year along with one donkey and a dog. And in 2017, wildlife managers killed more than 100 wolves involved in 243 livestock deaths. The state pays livestock owners for the damage each year. But officials with Wyoming Game and Fish say they have been able to reduce livestock conflicts in recent years. Some ranchers are using the inflatable waving tube figures commonly seen at car dealerships to scare wolves away from their livestock.

Copyright 2020 KUNC

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.