Wolves at Colorado's door?

  • DOWNING A DEER: Wolf and prey

    Mission: Wolf photo
  During a recent presentation at the University of Colorado by a Boulder-based wolf recovery organization, Sinapu, a captive-raised wolf named Rami was introduced to the audience. As Rami calmly walked up and down the aisles with her handler, sniffing boots and licking faces, audience members sat in awed silence.

Wolves, like many other predators, are romantic symbols of the wild. They are also political lightning rods. Restoration projects under way in the Yellowstone region, central Idaho and northern Arizona have faced years of opposition, and there's an ongoing controversy in Colorado over the reintroduction of a smaller predator, the endangered Canada lynx (HCN, 5/10/99).

Nevertheless, Sinapu has begun an effort to return the wolf to the Southern Rockies. After the federal Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that western Colorado could support over 1,000 wolves, Sinapu picked up where the agency left off, mapping potential wolf habitat based on prey availability, roadless areas, and public-land ownership. The final map represents two years of data-gathering and ongoing partnerships with various scientific groups and conservation organizations. Sinapu is also assembling a steering committee for its reintroduction project, and the group is continuing its educational outreach efforts. The Durango-based San Juan Citizens' Alliance, one of Sinapu's partners, is working on a proposal for the San Juan National Forest. Called the Wild San Juans Plan, it will be submitted as an alternative to the proposed Forest Service management plan.

Reintroduction supporters face huge political hurdles in Colorado, a state with a rancher-friendly legislature and a wildlife commission with a policy against wolves and grizzlies. Fred Wahl, who works on threatened and endangered species for the Forest Service, says he "can't see that (a reintroduction effort) would get very far." Federal agencies are reluctant to take up the battle, Wahl says, because the Fish and Wildlife Service has not identified Colorado as a wolf recovery zone.

Supporters of wolves, however, believe science and popular support will win out in the end. "In the early "80s, I couldn't imagine that in my lifetime there'd be wolves in Yellowstone, Montana and Idaho again," says Mark Pearson, coordinator of the Wild San Juans Plan. "Yet they've been there for years and are thriving."

For more information, contact Sinapu at 303/447-8655 or the San Juan Citizens' Alliance at 970/259-3583. - Catherine Lutz
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