DENVER—Wildlife lovers clamoring to bring gray wolves to Colorado may want to pay attention to those wooden outhouse-style structures in rural Catron County, New Mexico. They’re called “kid cages,” and they’re built to protect children waiting at school bus stops–from wolves.
“The wolf issue is an example, especially with the kid cages, about how you’re putting the interest of wildlife over the interests of human beings,” said filmmaker David Spady. “Every American should be concerned about seeing kids in cages and wolves out wandering around freely.”
Spady’s remarks came during a Tuesday screening of his film, “Wolves in Government Clothing,” a documentary on the impact of the 1998 wolf reintroduction on those living in the rural West.
The film focuses on rural communities struggling to cope with the economic and safety issues that accompanied the wolves, including livestock depredations, reduced elk and moose herds, and fewer hunting opportunities, not to mention chilling close encounters with wolf packs.
“There are certain predators that don’t mix well with populated areas, and most of the lower 48 is populated,” said Spady. “It’s not like the backwoods of Alaska or northern Canada. We’re populated.”
The screening, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity-Colorado and the Centennial Institute, coincided with a Fish and Wildlife Service public hearing on the wolves’ status at the Paramount Theater in Denver.
That was by design. Spady is holding screenings prior to five public hearings on the agency’s proposals to lift the endangered-species status of Canadian gray wolves in the Northern Rockies while increasing protections for the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico.
From the perspective of species recovery, the Canadian gray wolf reintroduction has been a huge success. In 2012, wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains numbered 1,674 in at least 321 packs, far exceeding the agency’s goals.
Even so, the delisting proposal is meeting with furious opposition from environmental groups and wildlife advocates who fear the move will signal an open season on wolves.
At Tuesday night’s hearing, every one of the 100-plus speakers offering comments was staunchly opposed to removing the federal protections. Many of the speakers identified themselves as volunteers with the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, and more than a few wound up in tears.
“You guys, you, we entrusted you to take care of our beloved wildlife, lands and waters, to take care of this land, and you need to be the watchdog so the states don’t open it up to an open slaughter for these wolves,” said Betty Neuenschwander.
The wolves are already delisted in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where state wildlife officials are now in charge of managing the population and have allowed controlled hunting. About 90 wolves have migrated to Oregon and Washington, where they are still protected.
Many speakers said they were concerned that the delisting would slow or halt the migration of wolves to Colorado.
“Will I ever see a wolf in Colorado?” said seven-year-old McKenna Miers. “I oppose your plan because no one will ever see a wolf in Colorado and they will be extinct.”
Spady acknowledged that the wolf-reintroduction effort has taken on “this iconic sort of mystical status” among wildlife advocates.
“Most people that don’t deal with wolves, they grew up painting pictures of them as kids, and it’s more like a teddy bear than it is something that’s threatening,” said Spady. “It’s really people who are having to live with them that are having the issues.”
He pointed out that grizzly bears once roamed California—there’s even one on the state flag—but nobody in California is seriously calling for a grizzly reintroduction.
“California, where they once had grizzly bears everywhere, doesn’t have that animal in the state because they’re just impossible to manage in populated areas,” said Spady. “And they’re trying to force wolves in populated areas through these programs, and it’s just not working.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to rule on the wolf proposals sometime after public hearings conclude Dec. 3.