Like many Western states before it, Colorado is considering a plan to bring the wolf back to its former turf in the Centennial State. Among the general public, support for the plan is significant: A study by a Washington, D.C., polling firm found that 68 percent of Coloradans asked were in favor of putting wolves back in Colorado. That's bad news for opponents of wolf restoration.
So just as they did in America's other wolf-welcoming Western states, Little Red Riding Hood alarmists in Colorado squawk about reintroduction. When their arguments about native game decimation and livestock losses fail to sway public opinion, or else crumble under scrutiny, they fall back on a fairy tale ploy the Grimm brothers would recognize: the fear of being eaten by wolves.
"It's last-resort rhetoric in places where wolf reintroduction is imminent," says Rob Edward, director of Boulder, Colorado's Sinapu, one of many groups working to bring wolves back to the state.
The snarling smear campaign takes many forms. A Colorado sports columnist writes about the wolf in seemingly reverential terms while dropping dark hints about a carnivore that "feasts on sheep and grandmothers." "Would you want a pack living in your neighborhood?" he asks.
Well, yes, I would. In fact, if I'm leaving the planet before my time, being devoured by wolves sounds like an exciting way to go. On a personal level, it means I'll get my name in a news story. Think of the headline: "Western writer becomes first man killed by wolf in U.S. recorded history."
That's juicy, a unique story angle no editor could resist. On my last day on God's decreasingly green earth, I could achieve a documented first for my species. I couldn't get that much notoriety if I became the Wolf Man and devoured my neighbors.
Besides, there are worse - and far more likely - ways to die young in the West. I could bleed to death on some downhill slope, my jugular vein severed by some gonzo skier. How cliche. I could be squashed by an SUV while I crossed the street, its driver barking into a cell phone and never noticing. Boring. Cars kill people every day in the West.
But do we see lobbying groups shrieking to ban Explorers, Expeditions and slalom skiers from federal and state-owned land? Of course not. When I left the South and moved West six years ago, I thought I was coming to a land too smart to buy the Beltway-style spin-doctoring of wolf foes. I also came here with a dream of someday hearing a wolf in the wild. Six years later, I've seen wolves in zoos, on Ban-the-Wolf bumper stickers and at presentations by wolf rescue groups.
When a special guest at one of those meetings unexpectedly tilted its head and howled, it put tears in many eyes. Yes, Mrs. Wolf, we'd groan, too, if we were in your exiled situation. How sad that one of the West's natives is found in most of the region only at fund-raisers or in pens and preserves.
But with wolf restoration in Colorado's future, I'm dreaming of the night my wife and I bed down by some backcountry fire and hear the night's silence sliced open by a wolf's howl. Of course, according to the fearmongers, such a moment will surely lead to an eye-to-eye encounter with the murderous vocalist. With skin crawling, I'll be forced to recap the information in those Division of Wildlife safety pamphlets: "Look the animal in the eye and make yourself look as large as possible."
Or is that the safety tip for lions? Ah, what does it matter, I'm not afraid. Bring the wolf back to Colorado and every other state where it once roamed. We all know a wolf attack in the Rockies is as unlikely as a hit-and-run with a hippo on Pikes Peak.
If the Big Bad Wolf wants a piece of me, he can come and get it. I'll go down with a fight, my adrenaline-tainted meat puckering his mouth and going to a good cause. Then, after I'm dead and digested, you can send memorial contributions in my name to any outfit fighting to restore one of the West's icons to its rightful seat of power in the food chain.
Marty Jones is a writer and musician in Denver, Colorado.
Copyright © 2002 HCN and Marty Jones