Shropshire Star

Colorado releases wolves in controversial reintroduction plan

The wolves were set free in Grand County in a spot state officials have kept secret to protect the predators.

Wildlife officials release five grey wolves onto public land in Grand County

Wildlife officials have released five grey wolves into a remote forest in Colorado – launching a controversial reintroduction programme.

The plan was embraced in the state’s mostly Democratic urban corridor but staunchly opposed by conservative voters in rural communities where ranchers worry about the predators attacking livestock.

The wolves were set free in Grand County in a spot state officials have kept secret to protect the predators.

It marked the start of the most ambitious wolf reintroduction effort in the US in almost three decades.

A judge on Friday night denied a request from the state’s cattle industry for a temporary delay to the release.

Colorado governor Jared Polis, who watched the animals’ release, said wolves “have larger-than-life places in human imagination, in the stories we all grew up with and tell each other”.

He said: “To see them in their natural habitat, and turn around look curiously at us … is really, really a special moment that I will treasure for my entire life.”

Colorado officials anticipate releasing 30 to 50 wolves within the next five years in the hope the programme will start to fill in one of the last remaining major gaps in the western US for the species.

Grey wolves historically ranged from northern Canada to the desert southwest.

The carnivores’ planned release in Colorado, voted for in a 2020 ballot measure, has sharpened divides between rural and urban residents.

City and suburb dwellers largely voted to reintroduce the apex predators into the rural areas where prey can include livestock that help drive local economies and big game such as elk that are prized by hunters.

The reintroduction, starting with the release of up to 10 wolves in the coming months, emerged as a political wedge issue when GOP-dominated Wyoming, Idaho and Montana refused to share their wolves for the effort.

Colorado officials ultimately turned to another Democratic state — Oregon — to secure wolves.

Excited wildlife advocates have started a wolf-naming contest but ranchers in the Rocky Mountains where the releases will happen are anxious.

They have seen glimpses of what the future could hold as a handful of wolves that wandered down from Wyoming over the past two years killed livestock.

The fear is such attacks will worsen, adding to a spate of perceived assaults on western Colorado’s rural communities as the state’s liberal leaders embrace clean energy and tourism, eclipsing economic mainstays such as fossil fuel extraction and agriculture.

To allay livestock industry fears, ranchers who lose livestock or herding and guard animals to wolf attacks will be paid fair market value, up to 15,000 US dollars (£11,844) per animal.

Hunting groups also have raised concerns that wolves will reduce the size of elk herds and other big game animals that the predators eat.

Meanwhile, Colorado residents who backed the reintroduction are going to have to get used to wildlife agents killing wolves that prey on livestock.

Some wolves were already killed when they crossed from Colorado into Wyoming, which has a “predatory” zone for wolves covering most of the state in which they can be shot on sight.

Joanna Lambert, professor of wildlife ecology and conservation biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said she lost her breath when she saw the wolves gallop into the woods on Monday.

For years, Prof Lambert and wolf advocates have been working to get wolf “paws on the ground” and “all the sudden, it happened”.

“This is a moment of rewilding,” Prof Lambert said, “of doing something to stave off the biodiversity extinction crisis we are living in.”

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