The movement to restore wolves to the southern Rocky Mountains scored a significant victory in late July of this year when the three member San Miguel County Commission voted to endorse the concept of restoring wolves to the wilds of San Miguel county. The endorsement the third by a local government on the western slope of Colorado's Rocky Mountains specified that any reintroduction within the county be conducted as part of a larger reintroduction program involving the entire Western Slope.
Commissioner Leslie Sherlock (Norwood) a strong voice for the opposition since the commissioners first considered the proposal in January of 1996 cast the sole dissenting vote.
While certainly a blow to the few ranchers in the county who voiced their opposition to the proposal, the decision marked the culmination of nearly six months of careful deliberation by the commissioners. In fact, Chairman Jim Craft went so far as to read several books on wolves prior to casting his vote.
For the many residents of the county who understand the importance of restoring wolves to the deer- rich canyons of the Dolores River and the elk-rich San Juan Mountains, the commissioners did the right thing. Indeed, their deliberation proved a study in democratic decision-making. Likewise, the tactics used to define the debate spoke volumes about power politics, the media, and ultimately, the need for county residents to come together as a community.
Us versus Them?
At the core, the furor surrounding wolf reintroduction epitomizes a battle for the soul of the contemporary West. From the moment the county commissioners took up the proposal, ranchers cast the proponents as "outsiders". This divisive politicking illustrates the clash of values as old West meets new.
As the green fire flickered out of the eyes of Colorado's last wild wolf in 1945, ranchers earnestly believed that righteousness had prevailed. Steeped in a tradition that sought to rein in the unpredictable and often tempestuous elements of a wild continent, Colorado's ranchers had no more reason to question the implications of eradicating predators than they had to ponder how mile upon mile of barbed wire fence might change the environment. Today, the actions and values of Colorado's settlers lay exposed under the scrutiny of a concerned and more informed society, and unenlightened ranchers feel threatened; they defend themselves by portraying those with differing views as newcomers who have no ties to the land.
The polarization over wolves undoubtedly obscures the reality and urgency of restoring these carnivores to the wild. Fortunately, the vigilance of a group of local Sinapu activists helped balance the debate in San Miguel county. Although livestock interests attempted to pit the west end of the county (Norwood), where the bulk of the county's livestock industry is centered, against the east end (Telluride), Sinapu activists from both ends of the county played a key role in helping to educate county residents and the commissioners about the importance of wolf recovery.
Each time the debate digressed into "us versus them," advocates steered the discussion back to the facts: without predation by wolves, weak and unfit deer and elk pass on their genes at a frequency equal to that of the strong animals; without predation by wolves, bighorn sheep with fatal pasteurella have time to infect an entire herd; without the carrion provided by wolves, wolverines continue to decline to the point of extinction, unable to find sufficient carrion to eat in the summer.
Worries over the impact of wolves on big game populations and livestock proved ill-founded when held up to biological evidence and common sense. With the facts now abating the confusion and doublespeak, the residents of San Miguel county can get down to the real work mending the rifts in their community and accepting responsibility for future generations.
If there is anymore pictures of wolves that you would like to see on my web page please send them to me via e-mail. I will be more then happy to put them up for you.