This November, Colorado residents will be voting on a wolf reintroduction ballot proposition. If passed, the proposition would charge the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission with reintroducing wolves to the state no later than 2023.
Denver Museum’s Institute for Science & Policy and Colorado State University invited Potomac rancher Denny Iverson to participate on a panel in the final webinar of a series entitled “Wolves in Colorado: Science & Stories.” As the hosts say on their website, “the potential return of this charismatic and controversial species has sparked a wide range of passionate reactions.” The series explored multiple topics surrounding the issue, including hearing from folks who have already been living with wolves.
Denny has been on the board of the Blackfoot Challenge for over 20 years, and helped design, test, and refine many of the strategies used today to reduce conflicts with carnivores in the Blackfoot watershed. He joined two other panelists last Thursday afternoon to share their lived experiences with wolves. We wanted to share some of that conversation here.
In the Blackfoot, wolves had been absent from the landscape for decades before a pack recolonized an area outside Helmville in 2007. At that time, the Blackfoot Challenge’s Wildlife Committee, composed of livestock ranchers and area biologists, had been working together for about five years to better understand the nature of conflicts with grizzly bears, and find ways to reduce them.
“By the time wolves came around, we had figured out a number of strategies already to reduce conflicts with grizzly bears. The thing is,” Denny said, “bears go to sleep in the winter and wolves don’t.”
“It was an emotional time and honestly, it still is.”
The panel moderators spoke to how ranchers in the reintroduction area would be disproportionately affected, and asked Denny to speak to the specific tools employed in the Blackfoot to reduce conflicts with both grizzly bears and wolves.
“One of the best tools we have is our range rider program. I’m busy haying and irrigating and I can’t get out there on my own. So what we’ve done is find local people who like to ride their horse a lot, or like to ride their motorcycle a lot, and train them on what to look for. The biggest benefit is the communication back to me and my neighbors. The rider in our area checks on our cows, how they’re acting, how skittish they are. If wolves are near our cows, then we know that and move the cattle to a different location.”
Denny also spoke to fladry (red flags strung along a fence that, as they wave in the wind, cause an avoidance response in wolves) and the legalization of wolf hunting as important factors, while ultimately emphasizing the importance of building partnerships with wolf management agencies to make living with wolves possible.
“What was interesting for us early on was getting our local biologists to let us know where the wolves were. Once we developed that trust that we weren’t just going to go out and kill them all, that we just wanted to be able to better manage our cattle, then they were willing. Creating those partnerships was absolutely key.”
“We also have a really close relationship with US Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Wildlife Services. I can’t say enough about those folks and their knowledge. Well-trained technicians can tell if a cow or calf was killed by a wolf or just scavenged after dying for another reason.”
Speaking to the process of working through contentious issues, a member of the audience wanted to know: When you’re in a room and passions are high, what do you do?
“If the meeting can last 10 years, then you’re golden,” joked Denny. “I hate public meetings but they’re so important. Sometimes people just need to let off steam and there’s not much you can do about that. So we held a lot of public meetings, like we do with other issues that come up. You might not be able to cure what’s ailing them, but you can listen. And hopefully they keep coming back.”
Interested in seeing the recording of this session or any others? You can watch the entire 5-part series here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaH5MZFJ37C1AKGUfAtR8fg