EAGLE, Colo. - Wes Schlegel, a lifelong rancher, just couldn't figure it out: "If my dad and granddad could have heard what was said here tonight, they'd be rolling in their graves."
What he'd heard was praise for wolves, now gone
from the Flat Tops Wilderness some 30 miles from here. Schlegel
lives about 15 miles from the Flat Tops.
said he'd heard stories growing up about a wolf pack that in 1912
or thereabouts arrived from Wyoming; he never heard anything good
about those wolves. The killing of one of the last wolves in 1923
was of such significance that people still think of that as a
benchmark year, he said, the year the land became safe for
Few genuine ranchers remain in
Vail-dominated Eagle County, but a dozen like Schlegel turned out
Oct. 23 for this meeting at the 4-H Exhibition Hall. They had been
promised the "facts' about bringing gray wolves to Colorado and
Their interest is not academic. A
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study issued in 1994 concluded that,
if wolves were to be reintroduced in Colorado, the Flat Tops would
be one of only two sites in Colorado that made sense. The other was
the San Juans, in southern Colorado.
Leery of the
"facts' that would be delivered, some 15 members of Sinapu, the
Boulder, Colo.-based group dedicated to gray wolf recovery, also
showed up to ask questions, causing ranchers such as Schlegel to
shake their heads in puzzlement.
Both sides, it
appeared, heard what they had expected to hear as Troy Mader of the
Wyoming-based Abundant Wildlife Society of North America
methodically faulted wolf reintroduction. Restoration efforts were
motivated mainly by romantics who dream of hearing wolves howl in
the night, he told the group.
"The wolf is being
used to sell the Endangered Species Act," he said. "We're spending
money on megafauna when we should be spending the money on other
species that need to be saved." If wolf recovery stands any chance
of real success, he continued, the program must be built out of
incentives, not disincentives, with acceptance by the livestock
community essential. Much of Mader's lecture, however, was intended
to prove that wolves have no place in much of the United States
since they "kill wantonly': Four once killed 200 deer in one night
in Minnesota, he said.
Sinapu members took issue
with Mader, and it was hard to tell how well his arguments played
with the ranchers. His economic argument, however, proved
effective. Providing the buffer between wilderness and the rapidly
urbanizing second-home cities of the Vail Valley, these ranchers
have resented gentrification of their enclave and resisted cashing
out to hobby ranchers. They see wolves as just more predators for
"I want to know why you want to
bring wolves back," Schlegel demanded of Sinapu outreach
coordinator Rob Edward. Edward shared his conviction that wolves
are the engines of evolution, helping trim the gene pool in prey
species, including deer and elk, of less competitive strains, which
sport hunting does not do.
Schlegel doubted that,
and he recalled seeing a mother coyote kill six sheep "for the sole
purpose of teaching them to kill."
certainly a theory," Edward responded. "Some of this stuff we have
to know by common sense," Schegel rebutted.
many members of Sinapu, though, common sense said that the goal of
Abundant Wildlife Society was to kindle animosities and drive a
wedge in the way of genuine dialogue.
information, contact Abundant Wildlife Society of North America,
12655 Highway 59 North, Gillette, WY 82716 (307/682-2826), or
Sinapu, Box 3243, Boulder, CO 80307 (303/447-8655, fax:
303/447-8612); e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org - on the Web at:
Best is managing editor of the Vail/Beaver Creek Times in Avon,