Colorado “armchair quarterback” gets it wrong about the catastrophic impact of wolves


Op-ed in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Livestock, wolves and armchair quarterbacks

“The fear of wolves is rooted in myth,” so says the recent Daily Sentinel column by James McMahon. A more realistic appraisal is the fear of wolves is deeply rooted in reality by the people on the landscape living with the impacts.

McMahon’s uninformed advice does nothing to aid either wolves or ranchers.

In 2013, two wolves attacked a band of sheep in Idaho that resulted in the death of 176 head of sheep. In 2022, two wolves attacked a band of sheep in Idaho that resulted in the death of 143 sheep. Herders and guardian dogs were present during both attacks and unable to stop the onslaught. Wolf attacks on livestock can be catastrophic.
Livestock stressed by the presence of wolves have reduced weight gain, reduced conception rates, are more difficult to handle; and wolves cause significant disruptions to grazing patterns.

Death loss is the most obvious cost; however, the laundry list of non-lethal deterrents ranchers are expected to use comes with a significant price tag and marginal results.

In North Park, despite round-the-clock vigilance by ranchers, six head of cattle and one border collie in its kennel have been killed by Colorado’s first wolf pack. Human presence in the form of herders and range riders has not stopped wolves from killing livestock. This was not “pure chance” as spun by McMahon, it’s a precursor to living with wolves in an already crowded and complex environment.

At the July Colorado Wool Growers convention, world renowned guardian dog expert Cat Urbigkit gave a presentation on ranching with wolves. Urbigkit discussed more than two dozen non-lethal management techniques her Wyoming ranch uses, and still, wolves kill. Every one of these additional management tools is an out-of-pocket expense to the rancher.

We have the difficult challenge of managing wildlife, extreme pressure from recreationalists and keeping agricultural viable. More guardian dogs, and more aggressive dogs are needed when wolves are present, which creates a conflict with recreationalists.

Not content to limit his lecture to ranchers, McMahon also takes a swipe at hunters. Big game herds seek safe haven on private property to escape from wolf packs. This concentration of animals damages fences and forage, and limits hunting options. It also poses health risks such as Lyme disease, hydatid disease and chronic wasting disease as both predator and prey concentrate on private property.

Ranchers’ deep-seated fear of wolves stems from shouldering the unwanted burden of a forced recovery at the behest of Front Range voters.

McMahon’s armchair quarterback advice on wolves and livestock is cavalier and dismissive, and he seems to be unaware of the past year of collaborative CPW wolf management stakeholder and technical advisory group meetings.

Bonnie Brown is Executive Director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association. Janie Van Winkle is a past president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

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