This year in Colorado, voters will decide whether or not to reintroduce wolves to the state. Although it’s been reported that a pack of wolves has been spotted in Colorado for the first time in 70 years, Steve says the reality is that wolves have been in Colorado for some time. Because their presence is already established there, he says there is no need to reintroduce wolves as they will naturally move in, grow in numbers and expand their ranges without help. Wolves expand their ranges very rapidly, Steve says, and pack populations are much higher than state verified population estimates. The reality is that packs are growing in every state they exist in, they are much larger than those states are willing to say, and the wolves continue to expand their territories. If Colorado didn’t do a thing, they would have plenty of wolves in 10 years without reintroduction, Steve says.
Going back to an important moment in time when hunters had more of an opportunity to control the situation with wolves, Steve cites the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. At that point in time Game and Fish agencies were telling hunters to kill more elk or they would be forced to introduce a predator that would do it for them. Because there were far too many elk for the carrying capacity of the land and hunters didn’t do enough to bring those numbers back into check, something had to be done so that the winter range wouldn’t be permanently damaged by large numbers of elk. Steve says it was in that moment that hunters gave U.S. Fish and Wildlife the ammunition to introduce wolves and that moment continues to have an impact today. When it comes to Colorado, Steve says that being proactive and finding a middle ground could be a viable alternative to reintroducing wolves. Hunters should be asking Game and Fish if there is a way to do a better job of knocking back the elk population, taking more cows, etc. By finding a solution where hunters can more effectively manage the population, drastic measures like the reintroduction of wolves could be avoided.
Balance is crucial, Steve says. Too many elk, deer and other game animals can cause a degradation of habitat. However, too many predators and not enough management negatively impacts all other game species and can make it difficult for those species to rebound. If the pendulum swings one one, it must swing the other, Steve says. If states use wolves to manage elk and deer populations, then there also needs to be real management of the predator population. Maintaining balance is a very complex situation. Steve also highlights the competition between different predators citing an encounter he had where a mountain lion killed an elk only to have a pack of wolves move in, tree the lion and steal the kill. Steve says in a situation like that the ultimate outcome is that the mountain lions are pushed out of their territory by the wolves and forced into areas that the wolves don’t want to be which are often closer to populated areas. That increases the number of human/mountain lion conflicts and the number of mountain lions that have to be killed as a result. Excessive numbers of wolves displace other predators like mountain lions, coyotes and more, Steve says, and it has a negative impact.
It’s important for people to remember that the animal kingdom is not a harmonious place, Steve says, it’s not a feel good commercial where predators are all getting along. Animals compete to stay alive, they fight each other for their own survival. As predator populations grow, there is more competition for range and territory. That underscores the importance of managing all species to maintain a healthy balance.
Be sure to listen in as Steve West, host of “Steve’s Outdoor Adventures”, stops by The Revolution to dive into the complex subject of wolves and predator management. Watch “Steve’s Outdoor Adventures” on Sportsman Channel, Mondays at 7:00 p.m. ET. You can also find previous seasons and episodes, anytime 24/7/365, with MyOutdoorTV.