Statement from Endangered Species Coalition on Release of the Draft Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan

For Immediate Release: December 9, 2022
Contact: Dillon Hanson-Ahumada, [email protected]
Derek Goldman, [email protected]

“The gray wolf is an important native species to our state, and a vital part of the wildlife heritage we all share as Coloradans,” said Dillon Hanson-Ahumada, Southern Rockies Field Representative for the Endangered Species Coalition. “Today marks one more step toward a momentous conservation achievement for the wilds and the people of Colorado. We will work to ensure that the final plan commits Colorado to a full recovery of wolves now and for future generations of Coloradans.”

Background:

Historically, wolves inhabited most of North America. They were mostly eradicated during the 19th and 20th Centuries, due to government-sponsored programs that included poisoning and bounties. 

In 1995 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and Central Idaho. There, wolves have created abundant economic benefit for rural communities near the Park: a University of Montana study indicated that wolves accounted for nearly a 4 percent increase in annual Park visitation and millions of dollars in extra in annual visitor spending for the Greater Yellowstone area.  While all wolves have more value alive than dead, these wolves in particular carry more than $82 million in value as economic engines for rural Montana communities near the Park.[1]

Restoring wolves can also result in increases in the health and functionality of ecosystems. For instance, it is well documented that following the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, over-abundant Park elk changed their browsing and foraging behavior in order to decrease their vulnerability to predation. As a result, over-browsed habitats such as aspen groves and riparian ecosystems had a chance to recover, when saplings began growing to survivable heights. This created additional habitat for a suite of other terrestrial and riparian species that depend on those trees.

Lesser known is the beneficial impact wolves had on the survival of antelope fawns—a favored prey of coyotes. A study, published in the scientific journal Ecology indicates that wolves have actually increased survival rates of antelope fawns in Wyoming by lowering coyote numbers.[2] Additionally, multiple studies have demonstrated that wolves help keep elk herds strong and healthy by preying preferentially upon the most vulnerable, sick or old animals.[3][4]  And by removing sick animals and reducing artificial concentrations of ungulates, wolves may even help fight the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.[5]

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[1] Duffield, John W., Chris J. Neher, and David A. Patterson. “Wolf Recovery in Yellowstone: Park Visitor Attitudes, Expenditures, and Economic Impacts.” 2008. Yellowstone Science 16(1): 20-25.

[2] Kim Murray Berger, Eric M. Gese, and Joel Berger.  2008.  Indirect effects and traditional trophic cascades:  a test involving wolves, coyotes, and pronghorn.  Ecology 89:  818-828.

[3] Lukens, Jim.  “Eleven years with Wolves – What We’ve Learned”, News release, Idaho Fish & Game Department, April 25, 2006.

[4] Science Advances • 22 Dec 2021 • Vol 7, Issue 52 • DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abj5944

[5] https://mountainjournal.org/predators-and-chronic-wasting-disease

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Wolf in Yellowstone in snowy environment with forested background
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