The Debate On Wolves In The State Of Colorado
Wolves once inhabited the state of Colorado, however over a century and a half ago the species was eradicated. Ecologists believe that the lack of wolves presents Colorado with an ecological imbalance. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is fighting to create a ballot for 2020 that would allow for the gray wolf to be reintroduced to the state west of the continental divide. Their goal is to create a plan that will properly manage and restore wolves back into Colorado’s ecosystem.
A rancher would be opposed to this bill due to the safety hazards it would present to the farms livestock. Livestock provide ranchers a with a livelihood and because so are deemed one of their more valuable possessions. The gray wolf is categorized as an apex predator because it has no natural predators. Wolves live in packs. Packs sizes can range from five to eight members and have social structures that enforce survival and reproduction. Its prey’s primary consists of ungulates. This poses a large risk for ranchers since these animals consist of elk, deer, and bison. Domestic species such as cattle, sheep and goats are also common prey for the wolf. Ecosystems consist of multiple trophic levels. An organism’s trophic level determines where it stands in the food chain. In terrestrial ecosystems, photosynthetic plants are the base level while apex predators are at the top. The reintroduction of the wolf may cause trophic cascades. In previous reintroductions of the wolf, trophic cascades have been proven to be positive for the biodiversity of those ecosystems. However, biotic factors such as predation and competition may pose threat to a species abundance and cause disturbances in the food chain. The magnitude of their effect cannot be predicted, so strict measures to manage the wolves’ migration and growth must be put in place to ensure safety in areas that are outside of national park boundaries. If wolves are introduced they will most likely dominate competition and create a further imbalance in the biodiversity of the ecosystem. A drastic change in a biotic factor such as competition can alter where a species exists in a given ecosystem.
Colorado has no finalized plan to compensate farmers for the wolf caused deaths of their livestock. The state of Oregon has regulations regarding compensation for livestock killed by a wolf. These regulations state that the rancher must prove the animal was consumed by a wolf and report the instance immediately. The rancher must also protect the scene of the crime so that wildlife officers can come to access the situation. Another qualification for compensation is that the rancher must prove to a committee that they did everything in their power to demonstrate non-lethal ways to protect their farm land and livestock from wolves. If wolves are to be introduced to Colorado it is necessary that the state draws up specific regulations, similar to Oregon’s, that ensure ranchers get compensation for deaths of their livestock caused by wolves. It is also important that ranchers and those composing the bill agree on the value of certain livestock. Cattle may be more valuable with age so getting compensated for its original price might not be fair. If the state where to implement this for owners of livestock, then ranchers and hunters must respect the presence of wolves by constraining traditional methods of shooting predators on sight.
If wolves are introduced, in order to limit mass murder of livestock, they must be placed into “free nature”. This means the wolves will be released far from residential, urban, and farm areas. These areas will be far away enough from humans to be safe but close to a natural ecosystem where ecological-evolutionary processes can be properly practiced and maintained.
Ecologists and conservationists would argue in favor for the ballot to pass because of the ecological benefits introducing wolves to Colorado would have. Wolves have proven to increase bio diversity in similar communities however, management of these wolves has not been easy. Wolves have already begun to migrate into parts of Colorado from surrounding states that have recently reintroduced wolves. These migrating wolves pose a serious threat to ranchers since a compensation program has not yet been implemented in the state of Colorado. The safety risks the ranchers and livestock face outweigh the ecological benefits of the current standing ballot.
- Weiser, S., & Weiser, S. (2019, August 19). Gray Wolf reintroduction effort brings up lost livestock compensation concerns.
- Condom, S. (2018, February 7). Gray wolf reintroduction talk has ranchers seeing red. The Aspen Times.
- Robbins, P., Hintz, J., & Moore, S. A. (2014),pp.184-201. Environment and society: a critical introduction. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Colorado Restore Gray Wolf Population Initiative (2020). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ballotpedia.org/Colorado_Restore_Gray_Wolf_Population_Initiative_(2020).
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