Wolf reintroduction an unwelcome idea in Moffat County
CRAIG — The regional director of the hunting and outdoors group, Big Game Forever, spoke out against the reintroduction of wolves to Western Colorado at the First Conservation District’s Annual Meeting and Banquet.
About 65 people were in the audience as Denny Behrens, Colorado director of Big Game Forever, presented on wolves in Colorado.
Colorado is within the historic range for gray wolves, and migrating male Mexican wolves, a sub-species of gray wolves, likely made pit stops in the state. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, wolves were extirpated in the state by the 1940s. Efforts to reintroduce wolves have now reemerged, backed by groups such as the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project and the Sierra Club.
In recent years, migrant wolves have been sighted sporadically in the state, with most of the sightings occurring in Northwest Colorado. According to Parks and Wildlife, at least five credible sightings of gray wolves in Colorado have been reported since 2004.
A 2016 Parks and Wildlife resolution states the commission’s opposition to reintroducing Mexican wolves in Colorado. In 2016, Gov. John Hickenlooper, along with the governors of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, signed a letter opposing the reintroduction of Mexican wolves in those states.
In the room Tuesday, no one spoke in favor of reintroduction. Moffat County is home to a large number of hunters and ranchers, two groups that have been vocal opponents of the reintroduction effort.
Big game hunters worry about the impact wolves can have on deer, elk and moose populations.
According to the Colorado Wolf Management Working Group, elk make up 90 percent of wolves’ diet in the Southwestern U.S. and would likely make up the majority of the animal’s diet here, should a population become established in Colorado.
The same organization reports that wolf predation could contribute to declining elk and deer populations in places where the population is already declining, but wolves likely could help cull weaker animals in areas where CPW has determined there are too many.
Wolves also cause deer and elk to behave differently. Wolves often force big game into heavily forested areas and to steeper slopes and higher elevations, which are often more difficult for hunters to access, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Behrens mentioned horror stories of wolves predating livestock. In Idaho, two wolves killed 176 sheep in a single evening. Most of the animals died due to asphyxiation as they stampeded each other trying to escape. Ten died of bite wounds, and one was partially consumed. It was the largest loss attributed to wolves in state history. Wildlife managers call these extreme events “surplus kills” and say they are rare occurrences.
Behrens is also concerned that wolves will serve as a vector for rabies and hydatid disease. Hydatid disease is the result of a tapeworm infection. Adult tapeworms develop in canines, which then deposit the tapeworm’s eggs in their feces.
When humans or ungulates digest the eggs by coming into contact with infected feces, the infection creates cysts of developing larvae, usually on the liver and lungs. As canines eat the carcasses of infected livestock and wildlife, the parasite continues it’s life cycle. In Idaho, 62 percent of wolves tested were infected with the tapeworm, though the most common form of the disease is found in domestic dogs and sheep.
The disease can be prevented in humans by de-worming household pets and keeping them from eating carcasses, as well as practicing good hygiene, especially after coming into contact with animal feces.
“I’m not trying to scare people,” Behrens said, as he clicked through photos of the disease. “I’m just trying to show you the reality of what can happen if we don’t get ahead of this.”
Behrens urged county commissioners to oppose reintroduction, a step the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners has already taken, with a 2004 resolution opposing reintroduction.
“Folks, we can’t let this happen in the state of Colorado,” Behrens said. “We definitely can’t let it happen in Western Colorado.”