Soap Box

Wolf symposium shared science

To the editor,

I was honored to share some lessons learned about ranching in wolf country at the Durango Wolf Symposium on Nov. 29. And I was disappointed by the letter to the editor (Dec. 6) sent by Naomi Dobbs representing the La Plata County Farm Bureau, La Plata County Cattlemen’s Association and La Plata Liberty Coalition – a letter that misrepresented both the symposium and the science on wolves.

Wolves are native to most of North America. Gray wolves lived from northern Mexico to the Arctic, from the Pacific to the Great Lakes. As with most species, individual size increased from south to north. Gray wolves were nearly extirpated south of the Canadian border; and after decades of recovery in the Northern Rockies, Great Lakes and a small part of the Southwest, they now occupy 

about 15 percent of their former range in the Lower 48. Gray wolves from any of those places could be reintroduced to western Colorado. Wolves already coexist with people and livestock in those places, and, in Europe, several times as many wolves live with millions of people.

The symposium brought together a group of wolf biologists, Native Americans, a historian, a range conservationist, a member of the Colorado Wolf Management Working Group, a rancher who has learned to live alongside wolves, and a local rancher who would rather not. The point of the symposium was to share multiple perspectives of professionals who have lived and worked with or studied wolves, not to have a debate between two sides. The organizers did not pay any of the presenters for our time.

It turns out that most biologists and even some ranchers think that western Colorado could once again be wolf country, and if so, that ranches would continue providing benefits to society, including habitat.

Colorado’s existing wolf plan (2004-05) did not address reintroduction, only management of dispersers from other states. That’s the plan that Mark Pearson outlined – a presentation misrepresented in the Dec. 6 letter.

The comparison of the Durango Wolf Symposium to the so-called “symposium” hosted by Big Game Forever, an anti-wolf propaganda organization, is an insult to science.

Had the writers actually attended the symposium, they could confirm it covered the usual issues raised by people who fear wolves. In contrast to what the letter writers would have you believe, the risk to big game is greatly exaggerated: most of the Northern Rockies now have more elk than they did when wolves were reintroduced. Only where wolves were allowed to reach very high density were they able to locally reduce (previously overpopulated) elk herds.

The purported threat to human safety was only addressed because it is a persistent concern, not a real issue. And hydatid disease, a parasite associated with domestic dogs and sheep, is a red herring.

I ran cattle in the northern San Juan Mountains for a few years. I never lost a calf, and thanks to strategic grazing

management and low-stress herding, my cows rediscovered their herd instinct and learned to mob up and run off potential predators. I actually left Colorado for five years to work on ranges shared with grizzly bears and wolves in Montana and Wyoming.

Since Montana stopped trying to count all of its wolves, those wolves have been verified as killing about 50 cattle (mostly calves) per year, out of about 2.5 million. Not all predation is documented, but it is far from what anti-wolf extremists would have us believe. Nevertheless predation can be locally significant. And it turns out that my experiences with strategies for preventing predation – while making the ranch more resilient – aren’t unique to me. Other ranchers in big-predator country, including Joe Engelhart who joined the symposium from Alberta, have successfully applied those ideas.

My purpose at the symposium was not to argue for wolf restoration in Colorado, but to share some experiences and the stories of some ranchers and cowboys who are learning to live with wolves.

But, full disclosure: I think Colorado is more Colorado with its ranchers than without. Our cowboys would be punchier, our mountains higher, our breeze more invigorating if it carried the howl of the wolf.

Colorado ranchers, tough as their wolf-country brethren, have a soft spot: love of their animals. It’s time for us to expand our love beyond humans and domestic animals to the wild ones. Our greatest wildlife biologist, Aldo Leopold, also a forester and farmer, saw it most clearly: only the mountain has developed a broad enough perspective to listen objectively to that howl.

– Matt Barnes, Dolores

Playing 'Masters of the Universe'

To the editor,

I have a message for the people who want to relocate wolves to Colorado – and those who don’t. Leave native fauna (and flora) alone! If wolves return to Colorado on their own, fine. If they don’t, fine. Native animals have challenging lives as it is and don’t need our interference to make things worse. We need to:

1. Stop destroying habitat;

2. Unless you plan to eat what you kill, stop shooting, trapping, poisoning, experimenting on, feeding and relocating wildlife;

3. Remove domestic livestock from public land and leave it to wildlife. Take responsibility for your animals without public subsidies. Maybe meat should cost $40 a pound;

4. Quit playing “Masters of the Universe” as if humans know what’s best for every other living thing. Our hubris is appalling. Will species go extinct? Yes; they already are and will continue to do so at an alarming pace (and once they’re gone, we will go, too). Why? Because humans have determined that everything else on Earth was put here to serve our every greed, including the “right” to reproduce ad infinitum.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, everyone. (If I haven’t pissed you off, you’re not paying attention. Wake up!)

– Eilene Lyon, Durango

Board doesn't reflect county folks

To the editor,

Congratulations to the city of Durango for having captured all three seats on the Board of County Commissioners! Going back 24 years, the Democrat county commissioners representing District 3 have yet to win a majority of the voters in that district that includes Bayfield, Ignacio and Vallecito.

In the last election, results showed that the current county commissioner for District 1 received 5,869 votes and his opponent got 5,155 votes within the precincts for that district. That’s a 714-vote margin for the current District 1 commissioner that lost the overall tally by 23 votes!

In May, a bill allowing counties of 70,000 population or less to elect commissioners strictly by districts was passed with bipartisan support in the senate. The Democrat-controlled house killed it. House hearings on the bill included testimony by phone from FLC. The only two La Plata County residents testifying against the measure were Jean Walters, former head of the La Plata County Democrats, and Durango’s mayor Sweetie Marbury.

According to 2017 population statistics, La Plata County had 55,589 residents, and the city of Durango had 18,465 residents. In other words, a third of the county residents (those living in the city of Durango) elects 100 percent of the county commissioners.

Beginning in January, we’ll have three Democrat county commissioners, two of which couldn’t even win the majority of votes in the districts they were “elected” to represent. How is that representative government?

– Dennis Pierce, Durango

Make safe & secure shelter for all

To the editor,

Homelessness was identified as one of the top three issues for our City over the next five years by residents in Durango’s Community Satisfaction Survey of April 2018. The City needs to listen to the community by taking the survey to heart and prioritizing collaboration and cooperation with the County and nonprofits to work on the challenge of homelessness.

Homelessness is a complex and long-term issue. It must be addressed by the City by actively supporting the development of a safe and secure shelter for all homeless. This may mean different types of housing or shelter for the different situations of individuals and families that are homeless.

The City has a model that supports community service nonprofits (i.e. Manna Soup Kitchen, VOA) which could serve as an example for a way forward. The City contributes by providing a location, and the nonprofits use their expertise to create, manage and operate the services. Why not do this for all homeless?

Perhaps, the nonprofit and faith-based communities could help in the short term by each providing temporary shelter for just one or two individuals.

Recognizing that it will take time to create housing solutions for all, the City must take action now.

– Kim Baxter, Durango

Forethought not higher taxes

To the editor,

The defeat of the 2A tax issue in November was not a “no” vote for police, streets and infrastructure but a “no confidence” vote on the way the city is run.

I attended the “Wicked Problem” meetings held by the City, and I consider myself an informed citizen. I was not surprised by the vote. The lack of foresight and planning is a major factor. The 2015 Park and Rec (P&R) sales tax should not have been brought to a vote four years before it was set to expire.

Other departments have been going begging for a long time. That tax should have been allocated among P&R as well as the non-sexy streets and infrastructure and then put up for vote. Why not put that up for re-allocation now?

It could be that people are seeing the cost and cost overruns of P&R projects. For example, the soccer fields at FLC and the Whitewater Park both had to be re-worked after “completion” totaling another $1.5 million in tax dollars. The P&R Advisory Board just voted for a new $4.5M parking lot at Santa Rita Park. All this is paid from sales taxes that are now desperately needed for other City departments.

It should be pointed out that another increase in sewer and water fees looms in 2019. Quit draining the same sources for revenue and instead look to areas that have, for some reason, been sacrosanct. Overall, we need long-range planning, forethought and fairness not higher taxes.

– Alma Taylor Evans, Durango