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Rocky Mountain Wolf Project Calls for Animal Reintroduction Amid Pushback

posted Sep 18, 2018, 10:49 PM by chloe owens

6/18/2018, by Tyler Grimes, Colorado Springs Independent

Rocky Mountain Wolf Project calls for animal reintroduction amid pushback

If anyone is a leading authority on wolf reintroduction, it's Mike Phillips. The conservation biologist first captured a wolf in Minnesota in 1980 and has since amassed decades of experience. His research has studied the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies, red wolves in the Southeast and Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. He's the co-author of The Wolves of Yellowstone, which details the reintroduction that he oversaw with the Yellowstone National Park Wolf Restoration Program…Though native, wolves have not roamed Colorado since the 1940s, when unregulated hunting pushed populations to the brink of extinction. The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, and wolves were listed as an endangered species one year later in the Lower 48. The animals are still listed as endangered in Colorado…“[Historically] wolves don't pose a threat to human safety,” Phillips told the audience, throwing his hands up emphatically. “That’s just a fact.” But just three weeks prior to Phillips' presentation, Mesa County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to oppose any efforts to expand or reintroduce wolves in the county, citing threats to moose populations and livestock, and the spread of disease. Phillips says it's rare for a wolf to kill livestock, and if/when it does the wolf is older, or injured, and it's not normal pack behavior. Between 1997 and 2015, Phillips says 117 cattle were killed by wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. That's 0.002 percent of an estimated six million cattle during that time... Although Colorado Parks and Wildlife wouldn't stop a natural repopulation, Phillips says it's very unlikely, if not impossible, for wolves to re-inhabit Colorado without human help. The main reason is because to the north, Wyoming aims to limit wolves to the northwest corner of the state. Outside of the designated areas — 88 percent of the state — wolves are considered predatory and can be killed without consequence, which has kept the animals from migrating to Colorado…But Phillips and his colleagues counter that wolves, over time, can restore balance to an ecosystem if they exist in large enough numbers. In the Yellowstone example, multiple pack reintroduction thinned deer and elk herds and increased herd movement. That movement not only aerates the soil and creates healthier woodlands, but also increases competition between coyotes and wolves, and decreases predation on smaller mammals.