Wolves for Colorado in the Flat Tops?

WildEarth Guardians is petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore wolves to four Colorado areas with the most emphasis on the Flat Tops area north of Glenwood Springs (part of it is a Wilderness area).

The other areas in the petition are “the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison national forests near Pitkin County’s western border, the San Juan Mountains and Wemenuche Wilderness in southwestern Colorado, and southern Colorado’s Vermeso Park Ranch and Carson National Forest.”

Story: Wolf reintroduction plan targets Flat Tops. By David Frey, Aspen Daily News Correspondent

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

25 Responses to Colorado wolf supporters push Flat Tops Wilderness area as reintroduction site

  1. avatar vicki says:

    I support wolves in Colorado. I have for quite some time. The combination of decreasing habitat, over populating and deseased ungulates dictate that a solution needs to be found for Colorado’s unbalanced ecosystem. There is an extreme lack of big predators here, atleast those that aren’t bi-pedal.
    However, I am concerned that this is presented in a way that comes across as too broad sweeping. There is too much mention of need to stop roads, and conserve space, and not enough emphasis on the wolves. It will give too many outs to opposition.
    I am familiar with the areas surrounding these wildernesses, and expect that we will get much of the same opposition that was met in the oringinal tri-state re-introduction areas. There are ranchers and hunters galore.
    There is one primary demographic difference, Colorado is a bit more forward in it’s green thinking. And, much to the dislike of some other states, we are a bit more liberal.
    This will pose a problem with our neighbors, Utah and Wyoming. I expect there will be more news about this soon, and moves made by both sides of the issue to publicize their positions.
    I wonder if there will be any type of talks between the states, WY, UT, ID, CO,MT, AZ and NM, maybe even NE? I think there neds to be a combined effort to do this the right way and avoid as much upheaval and litigation as possible. But I also think this further burries Wyoming’s previous stance on wolves. It will be even harder for them to extinguish wolves if there is a push to make them a permanent part of the Rocky Mountains, throughout the USA, and not just in states bordering YNP. It will also place new topics on the table in AZ and NM.

    Anyone wondering how this will effect the wolves in AZ and NM? I am sure that if wolves are given a solid base population in Colorado, especially the Uncampaghre and San Juans, it is a small amount of time before they make their way to those wolves. The gap will be closed between them….

  2. avatar Barb says:

    ok…. just being silly here….

    If Wyoming would agree to leave the wolves alone and put up some directional signs for the wolves “Attn: Wolves, for sanctuary, please follow these signs to Rocky Mountain National Park……….”

  3. avatar TPageCO says:

    A question for those who support reintroduction in Colorado: Would you be happy with an island population of a couple dozen wolves in the Flattops? My answer, as someone who supports wolves in the Northern Rockies and a former Colorado resident, is that this doesn’t constitute a success. Colorado has severe uncontrolled development issues, much more road and trail traffic, along with unroaded country that looks like a postage stamp next to the 3 big areas up north. RMNP is about 10% the size of YNP, for just one example. The abundant elk population will be irrelevant in the face of constant human conflicts.

    There are two major issues that Colorado faces – first, over 4 million people live there. That’s much more than the whole Northern Rockies area combined. Second, Colorado has nothing close to the amount of secure habitat of Central Idaho, Northern Montana, or the GYE.

    It might happen in the southern part of the state with a concerted effort to buy and manage land for wolves in the region between the Weminuche/San Juans and the Sangre de Cristos. There are substantial blocks of private lands still undeveloped, along with densely forested and rugged public ground.

    Oh yeah, there’s also a couple roads called I-70 and I-25 that see a car now and again…

  4. avatar Barb says:

    The majority of the people live in the metropolitan areas; much of the western part of the state is national forest.

    I’m not for wolves in Colorado INSTEAD of Idaho, N. Montana, etc. — in ADDITION to…….

    Wolves will disperse appropriately… they will “claim” their territory and other wolves will have to move…. in this way, the way I see it is that the most critical element is having appropriate laws in place to protect them so they can’t just be “shot on sight.”

  5. avatar catbestland says:

    TPageCo,

    While I agree that there are more people in CO than the other three states, most of those people live on the front range. There are still sufficient roadless areas to support wolf populations especially in the southwestern part of the state. The Uncompahgre and Wiemenuche wilderness areas are large and extremely rugged. What roads are there are mostly gravel except for a few thoroughfares, and even these routes are through very mountainous areas with slow going. I live in this area and while there is development, the number of livestock is decreasing all the time and this I believe is the largest hurdle to overcome for wolf reintroduction. The trend seems to be that ranchers are giving it up and selling out large acreage tracts to private individuals who are not as interested in cattle as they are in wilderness. The tide is turning.

  6. avatar catbestland says:

    Check out the petition from the link on the WildEarth Guardians website. It is 46 pages long with several attachments. It is very well presented and makes the argument quite well. Here’s hoping.

  7. avatar C. Harbin says:

    My guess is that the if wolves are reintroduced to the San Juan N.F. and Vermejo Park, it will be Mexican Wolves. That is an idea that has been discussed before. Moreover, I believe Ted Turner (who owns the Vermejo Park Ranch) has a breeding population of Mexican Wolves.

    Of course, if Grizzly Bear DNA McCain wins this dscussion will be moot.

  8. avatar Barb says:

    46 pages long???????????????

  9. avatar catbestland says:

    And then some!!!!!!!!!

  10. avatar TPageCO says:

    Catbestland

    The Uncompaghre Wilderness is barely 100,000 acres, while the heavily used Weminuche (CO’s biggest) is under 500k. For starters, the Bob Marshall is 1.5 million designated acres and the FCRONR is 2.25 million acres…so let’s not kid ourselves. And, like nearly all CO wilderness areas, these lack undisturbed low elevation ranges like the Canyons of the Salmon, the Flathead, the Yellowstone, etc.

    I’ve spent much time in Colorado wilderness areas, and they are stuffed with people compared to Central Idaho, and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems. All those front rangers don’t stay there on weekends.

    I’m not saying wolves couldn’t survive in low numbers in CO – I just think there’s a very small chance for statewide success given the existing habitat degradation, particularly in the lowland valleys necessary for winter survival. Personally, 25 wolves in the Flattops or the S San Juans is a pretty weak victory. Let’s deal with the real problem first – fragmented habitat.

    As noted in my previous post, I think it could be successful in the San Luis Valley/Sangres/S San Juans…if the trends you mentioned continue to progress.

    Part of the reason I moved to the Northern Rockies is because the place is “less broken” than Colorado, and there’s still the possibility of large carnivores walking around. The NCDE and the Salmon Selway are the two most intact places left up here when it comes to roadless country – it’s not a coincidence that wolf mortality has been less here than in the more fragmented GYE.

  11. avatar JB says:

    TPAGECO,

    A few years back, a couple of wildlife professors and I had a similar argument about the suitability of Utah. Theirthinking was that lower-elevation winter range (where the ungulates will be) would bring wolves into areas where they were unlikely to be able to avoid conflict.

    I think this is a legitimate point. However, having seen models of wolf habitat in the western U.S., it appears that Colorado is some of the last-best unoccupied wolf habitat. I don’t think you will ever see packs with the size and visibility that you have in Yellowstone, but that doesn’t mean that wolves could not persist and even prosper in some areas of CO…and Utah, for that matter. Personally, I hope we will at least give them a chance.

  12. It has been confirmed that a number of wolves have wandered down from Idaho or Wyoming into the Bear River/Wasatch Range area. They have also entered the state, at least barely, in several other areas.

    Several years back I got reports from multiple unrelated people about seeing multiple wolf tracks in the the Monte Cristo Ridge area (a backridge — east) of the Wasatch, but the reports ceased.

    I saw a good map of Utah wolf habitat. The largest block appears to be in the Book Cliffs area of east central Utah. That’s not a place we can expect natural recolonization.

  13. avatar vicki says:

    Ending fragmented land is a near impossible feat. You would have to eliminate a lot of privately owned land. That won’t happen.
    Wolves in large packs is not necessarily the norm. In fact, I was told once here thatthey are quite the exception. SO wolves living in smaller packs would find it a lot easier to acclimate to habitat.
    Wolves have had a lot of area in the GYE, and they have still had tremendous opposition and the conflict-though relatively small all things considered-has been blown out of proportion. That is in some large degree due to the “Western Cowboy” mentality.
    Colorado is a lot more progressive in their adaptation of that mentality. They like cows- well mostly they like the imagery of cowboys and ranches- but they love their very popular wilderness. We were Jackson Hole chic before Jackson Hole was chic. The current trends are much more favorable here than in Wyoming and Idaho. Our tree huggers are far more populous and popular.
    A lot of the possible success of this issue will depend heavily on the up coming state elections. If we have a liberal majority, this will be more favorably accepted.
    Furthermore, bringing wolves in would greatly aid in the move toward conservation, as it would sway the use of public lands and the ability to use and build roads. As I said before, that language in the article places as different light and bigger complication on the measure. That will be harder to swing than just bringing wolves in.
    I believe that wolves will adapt to the presence of humans, and the roads. It may go well in their favor as they will learn to become harder to find.
    There is another large difference in the areas around RMNP and YNP. YNP is surrounded by cattlemen. RMNP’s major surrounding settlements are not cattle driven. They are ski areas and huge tourism centers. Though there are cattle, more money is made from skiing and tourism. We don’t hear about bears, coyotes and mountain lions eating cows so much-though it happens. We hear about the bears breaking into houses and mountain lions hanging out in backyards in Boulder (a fairly large city). I don’t think people will care as much about the livestock.
    Keep in mind that Wyoming’s large cities (if you can call them that) are not where we get complaints. It is from the cattle hubs and smaller towns. Because of Wyoming’s lack of larger settlements, you have media that is centered on those smaller towns.
    In Colorado, the news from smaller towns is generally kept small town chatter. Unless a town is leveled by a tornado, we hear little about their news. We have Denver and surrounding burbs, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Boulder, Ft. Collins,….we have enough big city news to keep small town rumbling fairly unnoticed.
    Those people who leave the front range on weekends to go to the mountains, go there to see scenery and animals….not cows or sheep (unless they are big horns). They not only out number cattlemen, they out spend and out vote them.
    This will be an interesting follow. I think most of us expected wolves, but thought they’d get here by fleeing the other states.
    I expect that if we do have wolves, it will be much more hyped here. We advertise to lure in tourists, in a big way. We will have them featured on billboards, commercials and bumper stickers in no time.
    Again, I expect that they would adapt. I don’t see this so much as another place to base large wolf numbers. It is an opportunity to make a corridor for them to move through.

  14. avatar vicki says:

    Ralph,
    I have heard from some locals in the North Western areas that there are wolves here. Because there are a lot of cattle there it is kept quiet, maybe due to SSS, maybe because people want to prevent the SSS from happening.

    When you travel there though, itis easy to see that the cattle industry for small town ranchers is dying. The towns are boarded up, excepting some small grocery stores and gas stations.

    I’m down south a lot less, but it seems about the same. I wonder in that case, would people be more welcoming? They coul certainly use the resurgence of industry that wofl watching could bring.

    I used to wonder if wolves were once again common in the Rockies, would the phenomena surrounding watching them fade. But then I go to Estes Park and am reminded of just how crazy people go over elk.

    I have also heard there are grizzlies in the N.W. area. Do you think thatthey would be better suited there?

  15. avatar catbestland says:

    TPageco,

    It is true that the suitablility may not be as perfect as in Montana but look at Minnesota. It has more wolves, less land, more people and more cows. The wolves there do fine. Colorado wilderness is howling for the presences of wolves.

  16. Vicki,

    There have been a host of books and articles about possible Colorado grizzlies since one showed up and attacked a hunter about 20 years ago, but I tend to think it was probably the last.

    Small populations of 2 to 5 just “wink out.” Of course, a population of one will not last.

  17. avatar vicki says:

    Ralph,
    Right. But I actually meant do you think thatthe North West area would be better for wolves?
    TPCO-
    I agree. I hope it is done right though.

  18. avatar vicki says:

    It brings up a good point though, after having watched a show on the “prizzly” bear. (grizzly/polar bear hybrid) Could this occur with wolves too? I would imagine yes.

  19. avatar TripleJ says:

    Not to change the subject from Colorado, but it’s a major victory for all the Rocky wolves in that this past week the Fish and Wildlife Service has asked Judge Molloy to withdraw the agency’s rule delisting the more than 1,400 wolves in the region.
    LA Times had a front page story on it in today’s (Sunday) paper: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-wolf28-2008sep28,0,4148444.story.

    – – – –
    Thanks TripleJ. I made this into a post
    . Ralph Maughan

  20. avatar vicki says:

    TripleJ-
    Not only is that amazing, butthe front page of the LA Times is an amazing place for any environmental news.

  21. avatar Jeff says:

    Aren’t red wolves and algonquin wolves both likely hybrids of Coyotes and gray wolves? I would think mexican wolves would be prone to hybridizing as the wander off into the Southwest with few possible mates.

  22. avatar Rick Hammel says:

    Wow, I go to YNP to do some wolf watching for a week and look what happens!

    The only problem that I see is migration. Both the Flattop herd and the Bears Ears herd migrate in December toward northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah. I see the wolves following. The problem here is heavy livestock concentration. The ranchers will be up in arms about the reintroduction, led by T. Wright Dickinson, of Vermillion Ranches. T.Wright is very well connected and will fight to the end. I am not saying that he will win; he has lost his share of battles. But he is tenacioous. He is also fighting to preserve his “own” herd of trophy elk that his great grandfather relocated from YNP in the early 20th century.

    Rick

  23. avatar Pollie says:

    Not to be real picky, but the Mexican gray wolf aka Lobo(Canis lupus baileyi) is a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus). A breeding between these two would not be a hybrid but a cross. The Lobo is much smaller than it’s relative the gray wolf, ranging from 60-90 pounds on average. The Lobo’s native range was Southeast AZ, SouthernNM, Southwest Texas, and north central Mexico. I would suspect that if the gray wolf were introduced to Southern Colorado that the Lobo and the gray would not cross paths. I would also think that there would be more territorial issues as we see between wolfs and other canines (coyotes), rather then the gray and Lobo breeding together to create a cross, not a hybrid. The Lobo recovery effort has not been as successful as the effort for the Gray Wolf, partly due to lesser numbers to start with and continued problems with local ranchers and little red riding hood stories. Hopefully some day the recovery of El Lobo will be a success but right now I have my doubts.

  24. avatar Vielfrass says:

    My goodness this would be fantastic. What are the chances that it actually happens….

  25. avatar atlas says:

    im for wolves in colorado

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