Since the 1930s—following decades of shooting, trapping, and poisoning—Colorado has been a wolf-free zone. There are two ways wolves can return to Colorado: with human help, or under their own power. The Department of the Interior over the last few months made decisions calculated to block both avenues of return.
First, the National Park Service last year had a chance to do in Rocky Mountain National Park what it did in Yellowstone: use the wolves to restore natural systems. Since grizzly bears and wolves were eliminated from Colorado, elk populations have grown. And grown. And without predators, they have also been gobbling up aspen, and willows and other streamside vegetation, removing habitat for birds and food for beavers. You’d think the Park Service would learn from its experience in Yellowstone. Wolves there keep elk moving through, instead of mowing down, critical ecosystems. But last December, the Park Service said "no wolves need apply" for the job of elk control in Rocky Mountain National Park. Instead, taxpayers will spend millions to government sharpshooters to cull elk.
Second, the Department of Interior took wolves off the endangered species list in the Northern Rockies last week, an action that will effectively slam the door on wolves getting to Colorado on their own. That’s because for a breeding wolf population to get from Yellowstone to Colorado—and one or two wolves have made the trek in the last five years—it will have to pass through southern Wyoming. Under Wyoming’s new management plan for wolves, it’s open season 24/7 on wolves outside the Yellowstone ecosystem. That creates a gauntlet of fast-moving lead that wolves will have to run if they hope to reach Colorado, where Endangered Species Act protections will still apply.
Both of the government’s decisions may end up in court and could be overturned. But for now,Colorado will remain a little less wild with the government’s two pronged approach to keeping wolves out of the picture.