Stakeholder Management Plans Running Behind
As a Colorado native, I’m excited about the return of wolves to our beautiful state. Unfortunately, state wildlife agencies are preoccupied with the reintroduction of the species, but not the natural return of these predators. The wolfpack that now calls Jackson County home has created a dangerous situation that can be defused with some leadership and cooperation among stakeholders. Unwinding decades of wildlife mismanagement won’t be easy. Unfortunately, the Atencios, Fletchers, Gittlesons and others are on the leading edge of a leadership vacuum. I applaud their restraint.
I grew up in Southwest Colorado on a couple of small ranches. I worked for the National Cattlemen’s Association in Denver. I know that Colorado and other states have made great sacrifices for livestock producers over the past century. Agriculture now generates $47 billion annually and employs more than 195,000 people across the state. With more than 2.6 million head of cattle and $4 billion in annual revenue, beef is Colorado’s top agricultural product. The industry can afford to give a little back to the land and the people of Colorado, but it shouldn’t come on the back of a few small livestock producers.
State and federal agencies set this mess in motion by exterminating our wolves to support an emerging livestock industry almost 100 years ago.
State and federal agencies are still spending millions of dollars to kill America’s predators for livestock producers. This money should be spent to compensate ranchers for losses instead of paying USDA’s Wildlife Services and other agencies to eliminate possible threats.
In the face of global warming, climate change, wildfires and drought, it’s time to be smarter with our natural resources. Wildlife demands compassion, not more conflict. Predators and their food sources have been disrupted in many ways thanks to wildfires and drought, which are causing severe stress and extreme behavior. In the wake of record heat, drought and wildfires, this winter will likely take a severe toll on wildlife populations across the West. Many predators will be pushed into new areas to survive, including more cities and towns. Predator migration isn’t just a rural issue. Colorado needs a plan to address wildlife migration now, especially as it relates to predators. Killing all that encroach on private property isn’t the answer.
Land use is now one of the most vital issues of our time. Livestock production is no exception:
- It requires mass quantities of scarce resources, including water and grain that could otherwise feed people.
- Livestock production generates tons of methane—a potent greenhouse gas.
- Agricultural expansion is pushing endangered species around the world into extinction. Consumers are as guilty as the producers.
- Thousands of cattle are turned loose on out mountains for below-market grazing. This subsidy is anti-competitive since it only benefits a few privileged cattle producers. Many of these cattle are abandoned on our public lands where they trash the watershed throughout the year.
- Many farms and ranches claim to support food safety, while being paid to turn their land into industrial-scale sewage dumps, where cities are illegally disposing of tons of municipal sewage sludge–a highly toxic and highly infectious waste that is contaminating land, water, air and food supplies. The beef industry claims to be prion-free and that there is no need for a formal program that tests for mad cow disease (prion disease). Meanwhile, they are being duped into spreading prion contaminated sludge on their land. This reckless practice promotes mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease and neurological disorders among humans. Under a more responsible prion-containment plan, wolves can help minimize the spread of prion disease back and forth between livestock and wildlife.
Agriculture as a whole must be more responsible and accountable to meet the demands of a changing world.
For example, it might make sense to turn some of these ranches in wolf country into carbon farms to eliminate conflicts with recovering wildlife populations. Hunting guides should at least add wolf-watching tours to their list of offerings. I know hundreds of people that are eager for an opportunity to see the first wolves back in Colorado. A federal judge just restored protections for gray wolves in most of the United States. Unfortunately, it left the wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming unprotected. Wolves continue to be a pawn in the political gamesmanship of industry. Unfortunately, many small livestock producers across America are threatened by wolves, but not gray wolves. The wolves of Wall Street have been driving small producers out of business for decades. The meat packers continue squeezing the life out of all producers. The meat industry needs reforms on many levels. Making room for wolves is just the first step of many. Consumers are part of the revolution.