April 2013. Sitting on a covered porch at High Lonesome Ranch on the western slope of Colorado with the late Michael Soulé, he shared with me his heartfelt desire of wolves returning to Colorado. Soulé, the ‘Father of Conservation Biology,’ a founder of Wildlands Network, thought big: connected Wildways spanning the North American continent, and big carnivores, particularly wolves inhabiting those Wildways.
For Soulé, and all of us at Wildlands Network, large carnivores are special. They of course play a crucial role in ecosystem health, they have remarkable social structures, they are highly intelligent, and with canids in particular, there is a long historic bond with humans. They are also one of the most highly persecuted classes of mammals and the humans that came before us did a remarkable job of eliminating carnivores from human dominated landscapes.
The return of the wolf to Colorado would fill the “missing link” in the chain of a metapopulation of wolves from the northern reaches of Canada south all the way to Mexico. And for Colorado, since the last wolf was killed in the 1940s, the lack of large predators has resulted in too many elk and deer that eat away the vegetation that holds streams and rivers back, leading to erosion and the disruption of even more habitats, like those for native beavers and songbirds. Wolves also naturally limit the spread of disease, such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), by taking vulnerable animals out of the population.
With the return of the wolf to Colorado, the effort to return the wolf to its historic range in the Rocky Mountain west that started decades ago would reach an indisputable marker of success. An indicator not only that humans were, even if begrudgingly, beginning to recognize the ecological need for wolves, but that enough of us were willing to honor the inherent right of this species to coexist in the world.
2020 through 2023 may well be the time when Soulé’s dream of the wolf’s return to Colorado is realized. A small pack is trying to grab a foothold in northwestern Colorado, and a small band of committed conservationists, including Wildlands Network, are trying to do the remarkable: pass a citizen’s initiative to return wolves to the state. The Colorado Gray Wolf Reintroduction Initiative is on the ballot for November 3, 2020, and when passed this new statute will require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves on designated lands west of the continental divide by the end of 2023.
Wildlands Network is going all-in to support the final stretch of the campaign through a substantial investment of unrestricted funds. We recently invested $25K into the campaign for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project initiative to reestablish wolves in western Colorado, a fitting tribute to Soulé’s legacy.
Given the uncertainty of the times, one could argue that fiscal prudence would dictate cutting back on expenditures. But to do so would betray our mission of restoring and rewilding North America, of protecting the incredible biodiversity of this place we call home, and that we will not do. Besides, how many opportunities do you get to help make the dream of a conservation giant, Michael Soulé, come true?