In western Colorado, wary ranchers eye wolves’ arrival and fear urban voters will introduce more
Ballot measure to widen wolves’ comeback could threaten partnership between conservation community and agriculture
COLD SPRINGS MOUNTAIN A lone black heifer wailed, wandering into white mist as night fell across a sage-studded plateau in the middle of where a wolf pack has moved into northwestern Colorado.
Rancher T. Wright Dickinson looked on, frowning, aggrieved an arch conservative westerner whose family has run cattle here since 1885 on high country spanning three states that ranks among the last large open landscapes.
He’d turned this heifer loose for grazing through spring-fed meadows where deer, pronghorn antelope and elk roam. It’s destined to be beef for city dwellers who shop at Whole Foods but, for now, Dickinson emphasized, a moral duty obligates him to protect his herd.
“They are vulnerable,” he said. “We’re very concerned about how this relationship with wolves is going to be.”
The goodwill of ranchers like Dickinson, main tenants in still-wild parts of the West and key players in preserving open space, looms as a casualty in the push to re-establish wolves in Colorado.
Bolstering the six wolves that arrived on their own, voters concentrated in cities Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Boulder are poised this November to order state officials to introduce an unspecified number more. Gov. Jared Polis has declared he’s “honored to welcome our canine friends back.”
Colorado’s statewide wolf-reintroduction ballot initiative is rankling rural communities, rekindling old conflicts over the purpose of public lands. It’s straining the hard-won partnership that ensures, if not pure nature, the conservation of open landscapes in the face of Colorado’s population growth and development boom.
Nowhere has this initiative hit stiffer resistance than here in northwestern Colorado, where residents cling to ranching and elk hunting as coal mining dies due to climate concerns, another imposition by wolf-friendly urban liberals, residents contend, who want to remake the place as an ecosystem preserve.