The gray wolf is not a trophy to hunt
Like many of my fellow Colorados, I have been fortunate enough to spend many days hiking and camping on our state’s beautiful public lands. I have learned from years of sleeping in the open that just being in nature is an inspiring and necessary part of a life well lived.
After college, I moved to Colorado, my mother’s home state, and started working for Outward Bound, taking students on outdoor expeditions. Later, I served as Executive Director of Outward Bound, before turning to politics to pursue my passion to conserve and protect our environment. My 16 years of service in the US House and Senate have made me appreciate the importance of public policy in the conservation of wilderness and wildlife.
Colorado is on the verge of reclaiming some of its lost wilderness features with the passage of Proposition 114 in November 2020, which mandates the restoration of gray wolves in the state by the end of 2023. planning process is underway and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is likely to release 40-60 wolves over a 2-3 year period beginning in late 2023.
Colorado’s parks and wildlife management plan, by law, must be based on the “best available scientific research” on the coexistence of wolves in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes states. The experience in the northern Rockies over the past 27 years clearly proves that wolves pose a miniscule threat to human security and will not threaten the economic viability of Colorado’s ranching or hunting industries. Additionally, Proposition 114 requires that cattle ranchers be compensated for wolf losses, helping to ensure the health of our agricultural industry.
Biologists continue to learn more about how ecosystems work, and they now recognize that predators are essential to maintaining the health, integrity, and natural balance of these 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 contentious issue the Parks and Wildlife Commission will face will be whether wolves are hunted for recreation once they have reached a self-sustaining population.
I firmly believe that a recreational or trophy hunting season should not be allowed.
First, the gray wolf is currently fully protected under the Endangered Species Act as an “endangered species” and therefore cannot be killed or even harassed. Additionally, Colorado voters made the ban on a recreational hunting season very clear by passing Proposition 114, which designates the gray wolf as a “non-game” species. Preventing the random killing of wolves will help ensure they can fulfill their ecological role, restoring the natural balance of Colorado’s ecosystems.
Still, when wolves have recovered enough to remove federal protections, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will face pressure to establish a recreational hunting season. Yielding to this political pressure would be a mistake. There is no scientific reason to hunt wolves, as research has proven that wolf populations are self-regulated by territorial interactions between wolf packs.
To deal with relatively rare cases of livestock culling, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is working with the Fish and Wildlife Service under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act to allow culling wolves causing trouble. Done well, the restoration of the gray wolf in Colorado will be a historic achievement of national significance, reflecting the changing attitudes of Coloradons toward wildlife. More and more of our fellow citizens value the presence of wildlife and its ecological roles in addition to the practical values expressed by the hunting public.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission should resist political pressure from trophy hunters and big game outfitters to approve a gray wolf management plan that reflects Colorado values, which does not endorse or authorize a gray wolf recreational hunting season.
Mark Udall represented Colorado in the United States Senate from 2009 to 2015 and Colorado’s second congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1999 to 2009.