By Paulina Firozi
A 4-year-old gray wolf is released last fall at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. (National Park Service/AP)
State officials announced last week that an effort to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado qualified for the 2020 ballot. If passed, the ballot initiative would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to reintroduce the wolves to public land in the western part of the state by the end of 2023.
Gray wolves were widely eradicated in the mid-20th century, but facing dwindling numbers, they received endangered species protections in 1975. They have been reintroduced into various regions, including Yellowstone National Park, and conservationists have pushed to bring them back into additional habitats they say are suitable for wolf populations, such as Colorado.
Supporters say a ballot measure puts the wolf restoration effort in the hands of voters and bypasses state and federal officials they argue haven’t done enough to recover and protect the species.
Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, said he has been working toward reintroducing wolves in Colorado for more than 25 years. He said the group, which is leading the campaign supporting the initiative, decided to push for a ballot measure “after we had exhausted all of our due diligence with federal agencies and state agencies.”
Edward and Michael Robinson, conservation advocates with the Center for Biological Diversity, said both Republican and Democratic administrations have been reluctant to develop a recovery plan for the controversial predators, long despised by farmers and ranchers. Last March, the Trump administration proposed stripping federal protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, declaring that the wolves have successfully recovered.
“The current administration is making an extra-hard push to divest themselves of wolves and other species recovery obligations, but this has also been a struggle for many, many years,” Edward said.
Wildlife advocates say the Trump administration has declined to prioritize protections for species threatened with extinction. As of about three years into Trump’s presidency, his administration has listed 21 species as threatened or endangered, according to data compiled by the Center for Biological Diversity. That is less than a third of the 71 species the Obama administration listed in the same time period. By comparison, the George W. Bush administration listed 25, the Clinton administration listed 212 and the George H.W. Bush administration listed 153 in the first three years.
“If you have an administration that’s not even providing basic protections for species on the brink of extinction, it’s reasonable to expect they’re not going to recover species like wolves in the Southern Rockies,” said Noah Greenwald, the center's endangered species director.
Meanwhile in Colorado, Edward said there’s wide support among residents for reintroducing wolves.
Conservationists say the predators can provide a check on the population growth of animals such as deer and elk, which eat vegetation. But opponents of the measure, like Denny Behrens, co-chair of the Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition, argue wolves would kill livestock and risk the livelihoods of Colorado ranchers.
Edward said the initiative would require the state to compensate owners when wolves kill cows, sheep or other livestock. But Behrens said the compensation is inadequate.
“Check with the ranchers in Idaho and Montana; it’s not working. The depredation is so high, they don’t have the money to pay for it,” Behrens said. He said his group has the support of 25 Colorado counties and counting that have expressed opposition to the initiative.
Joanna Lambert, professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, said the wolf restoration effort in the state is especially notable as the world's scientists warn about biodiversity loss. She pointed to the Australian fires as the latest crisis that has affected or killed more than a billion animals.
“Anybody that has their eyes open looking around the world sees habitat destruction. If you’re paying attention, you cannot deny we’re losing wild things and wild places at a time when the measures we have to protect those species are increasingly being eroded,” she said. “Although what’s happening in Colorado is not necessarily addressing what’s happening at the federal level, it’s a statement on how much we are interested in saving what we have regardless of what’s happening at the federal level.”
A crack opens up in the ice alongside the research vessel Polarstern. Researchers on the MOSAiC mission are struggling to cope with more fragile and easily fractured ice, a consequence of climate change. (Matthew Shupe)
- Here’s what participants in the first leg of the voyage described: The ice and landscape were even more unstable than anticipated and new cracks and fissures appeared in the ice daily, which is “throwing the carefully-coordinated camp into disarray.” Matthew Shupe, an atmospheric scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and co-coordinator for the MOSAiC expedition, said in the Arctic of the near future, “this kind of project … setting up a ice camp for a whole year, is not going to be possible.”
- And participants still on their way: Melinda Webster, a sea ice geophysicist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks who is heading to the site in June, told Kaplan: “By the time I leave the Polarstern in mid-August, there is a possibility that the ice at the MOSAiC site could be completely melted.”
Diego has fathered upward of 800 tortoises, scientists say. (Galapagos National Park Handout/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Actress and activist Jane Fonda accompanied by actress Susan Sarandon, left, and actor Joaquin Phoenix, second from left, along with others protest at “Fire Drill Fridays” demonstrations. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
Amid an early-morning smoky haze, a man cleans the forecourt of Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Jan. 5. (Lukas Coch/Reuters)
- Research on the health impacts: Stanford University scientists Kari Nadeau and Mary Prunicki are researching the long-term consequences of wildfire smoke exposure. “They’re closely following hundreds of people affected by devastating wildfires in California, taking blood samples and asking them about everything from their use of air filters to their psychological responses to the experience. Earlier research has linked air pollution from wildfires to a range of acute conditions, including asthma, heart ailments and strokes, but Nadeau and Prunicki hope to solve a deeper mystery,” Dennis and Fears write. “…The work is urgent, Prunicki said, not only because existing research is limited, but also because the rapidly warming climate is likely to make the unprecedented fires in Australia only more common there and elsewhere around the globe.”
Ao Air’s Atmos Faceware is an air filter face mask. (Ao Air)
- The backdrop: “With each CES, more reality creeps in. For the second consecutive year, the event had a section focused on climate change-related technology with the optimistic name ‘Resilience.’ ”
Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette’s department published new efficiency standards for big equipment on Jan. 10. (Jon Gambrell/AP)
- The details: The new standards will “save consumers and businesses about $8.4 billion and cut carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 100 million tons over 30 years, according to the Energy Department’s own estimates. That is the equivalent of taking 21 million cars off the road for a year.”
- In the dark and vulnerable: “Nearly 60,000 people are without power, concentrated in the most impacted areas, a reminder that the island’s frail electrical grid is vulnerable to natural disasters — some people went weeks or even months without power after Hurricane Maria, which was widely cited as a contributing factor in countless deaths in the aftermath of that storm.”
A Telsa Model 3 car recharges at a Tesla charging station at Cochran Commons shopping center in Charlotte. (Chuck Burton/AP)
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife holds a legislative hearing on Tuesday.
- The House Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation holds a hearing on the path to a carbon-free maritime industry on Tuesday.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the Energy Department’s Office of Science on Wednesday.