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Ranchers, environmentalists debate merits of wolf re-introduction

More than a century ago, North Park, Colorado, was the center for the state’s wolf eradication efforts. In 1910, the North Park Stockgrowers Association began offering a $25 bounty for each wolf killed. The idea spread, and wolves were no longer living in Colorado by 1945.

The sublime valley is now home to about 25,000 cattle and 1,400 humans. When Colorado voters approved wolf reintroduction via Proposition 114 in November 2020, it raised apprehension for the local ranching industry.

Shawn Silverberg, president of the North Park Stockgrowers Association, says ranching is a tough business, and wolf packs preying on cattle is the last thing local ranchers need. “We’re totally against it [reintroduction],” says Silverberg, whose family has ranched in the area for more than a century. “There was a reason our ancestors got rid of them.”

He adds, “We’re already struggling. By reintroducing these wolves, you’re going to destroy some families.”

Urban Colorado has too much sway over the rural corners of the state, Silverberg contends. “Our voice up here is not heard the way it should be. The Front Range gets to dictate a lot of what happens, and it’s unfortunate. I don’t turn a bunch of bedbugs loose in Denver and say, ‘Deal with it.'”

He dismisses state-funded compensation packages for livestock killed by wolves, noting that it’s difficult to prove a wolf killed a cow, as bears, mountain lions, and even coyotes hunt cattle.

Silverberg also predicts wolves would negatively impact tourism: “You’re going to lose a lot of hunters and recreational dollars.”

But Jared Gricoskie, owner-operator of Yellow Wood Guiding in Estes Park, says there’s another economic impact: boosting tourism.

Gricoskie, who has focused on wildlife-watching tours in Rocky Mountain National Park since 2007, says wildlife-focused guides charge more – as much as 50% more than Yellow Wood – in wolf country in and around Yellowstone National Park.

A 2006 University of Montana study found that the Yellowstone reintroduction had an annual economic impact of $35 million, or about $400,000 million per wolf in the park per year.

Those kinds of gains are far higher than losses from cattle, which often sell for $3,000 a head, as Gricoskie is quick to note. “If you’re going to say you’re going to be a free-market capitalist, then be a free-market capitalist and start charging people to see those wolves around your cows.”

Gricoskie points out that many things kill far more cattle than wolves: There are fewer than 200 wolf kills across the West in a typical year, versus hundreds of thousands of livestock deaths attributable to disease and weather alone.

Coyote eradication efforts in the U.S. have totaled $500 million in the U.S. in the last 50 years, he estimates, yet the coyote population has increased, but wolves would keep it in check as a matter of course.

“I’m a fiscal conservative, environmental liberal,” Gricoskie says. Anti-wolf doctrine “is an economic policy that makes no sense. We are spending money to manage things nature will do for free. If you’re a free-market capitalist, that’s a better deal.”