Like many of my fellow Coloradans, I have been fortunate to have spent many days hiking and camping on our state’s magnificent public lands. I have learned from years sleeping under the open sky that the simple act of being in wilderness is an inspiring and necessary part of a life well lived.
After college, I moved to Colorado, my mother’s home state, and began working for Outward Bound, taking students on outdoor expeditions. Later, I served as Outward Bound’s Executive Director, before turning to politics to pursue my passion to conserve and protect our environment. My 16 years serving in the House and U.S Senate made me appreciate the importance of public policy in conserving natural wild places and wildlife.
Colorado is poised to reclaim some of its lost wilderness characteristics thanks to the passage of Proposition 114 in November of 2020, which mandates the restoration of gray wolves to the state by the end of 2023. The planning process is underway, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is likely to release 40-60 wolves over a 2–3-year period starting in late 2023.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife management plan, by law, must be based on “best available” scientific research of wolf co-existence in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes states. Experience in the Northern Rockies over the past 27 years clearly proves that wolves pose a minuscule threat to human safety, and will not threaten the economic viability of Colorado’s livestock or hunting industries. Further, Proposition 114 requires that livestock producers be compensated for losses to wolves, helping to ensure the health of our agricultural industry.
Biologists are continuing to learn more about how ecosystems function, and they now recognize that predators are essential for maintaining the health, integrity and natural balance of those systems. We know that the return of the gray wolf will help restore Colorado’s natural ecological balance, including reducing the prevalence of chronic wasting disease in elk and deer, and making wildlife populations more resilient to the effects of climate change.
The most controversial issue facing the Parks and Wildlife Commission will be whether wolves are recreationally hunted once they achieve a self-sustaining population.
I strongly believe a recreational or trophy hunting season should not be allowed.
First, the gray wolf is currently fully protected by the Endangered Species Act as an ‘endangered species’ and thus cannot be killed or even harassed. Moreover, Colorado voters made the prohibition of a recreational killing season very clear in passing Proposition 114, which designates the gray wolf as a “non-game” species. Preventing random killing of wolves will help ensure they can fulfill their ecological role, restoring natural balance to Colorado’s ecosystems.
Nevertheless, when wolves have recovered sufficiently to remove federal protections, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will face pressure to establish a recreational hunting season. Giving in to this political pressure would be a mistake. There is no scientific reason for hunting wolves, as research has proven that wolf populations are self-regulated by territorial interactions between wolf packs.
To address the relatively few instances of livestock killing, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is working with the Fish and Wildlife Service under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act to allow for the selective removal of wolves that are causing problems. Done right, the restoration of the gray wolf to Colorado will be a historic achievement of national importance, reflecting the changing attitudes of Coloradans towards wildlife. More of our citizens value the presence of wildlife and their ecological roles in addition to the practical values expressed by the hunting public.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission should stand up to the political pressure from trophy big game hunters and outfitters to approve a gray wolf management plan reflecting Colorado values, which does not endorse or allow a recreational hunting season of the gray wolf.
Mark Udall represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate from 2009-2015, and Colorado’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999-2009.
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