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Chancellor’s Lecture on reintroducing red and gray wolves

Guest Mike Phillips highlights the debate in Colo.

Reintroduction of wolves could be on 2020 Colo. ballot.
Illustration: Sophie Auriti · The Sentry

On Oct. 23, CU Denver’s chancellor Dorothy Horrell introduced the audience in Room 2600 of the Student Commons Building to the fifth installment in the Chancellor’s distinguished lecture series. 

The purpose of the lecture series, as stated by the CU Denver Office of the Chancellors, is “to help narrow the widening gap between fast-moving advances in knowledge acquisition and their understanding and appreciation by the general public.” 

In the most recent lecture, CU Denver welcomed Mike Phillips to speak about the reintroduction of red and gray wolves to the southeastern United States. Phillips serves as the Director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, focusing on the recovery of endangered species. He authored The Wolves of Yellowstone, a book which recounts the process of the reintegration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.  

Phillips has also been a member of the Montana state legislature since 2006, where he founded the Montana Legislative Climate Change Caucus and worked with the Obama administration to help pass clean energy legislation. 

Phillips announced that he was speaking at this event because he “believe(s) that a serious, comprehensive conversation about restoring gray wolves to western Colorado is long overdue.” 

Phillips endorsed ballot Initiative 107, which will ask voters if they support “a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning the restoration of gray wolves through their reintroduction on designated lands” and “to implement a plan to restore and manage gray wolves; prohibiting the commission from imposing any land, water, or resource use restrictions on private landowners to further the plan; and requiring the commission to fairly compensate owners for losses of livestock caused by gray wolves.” 

According to Phillips, the current absence of wolves in Colorado is explained by a “250, almost 300-year war to drive the wolf to extinction. It was nearly successful.” This war continued “until the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.” 

Phillips acknowledged that many have legitimate concerns which position them against Initiative 107. Many hunters and cattle ranchers who reside in western Colorado worry that increasing the wolf population will result in increased killings of their livestock or game populations, therefore affecting them financially. 

To this criticism, Phillips presented data showing the low percentages of elk and cattle that were killed by wolves in areas where they have already been reintroduced. 

Phillips ended the speech by explaining a major benefit created by returning the wolf population: more wolves prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a neurological disease afflicting some deer, elk, and moose, which could pose a threat to humans who eat an infected animal. Wolves would kill more animals with the disease and prevent its spread by forcing them into smaller herds. 

Petitioners hoping to see the initiative on the 2020 ballot have been collecting signatures from Colorado voters, including those on the Auraria Campus. Petitioners must collect 124,632 signatures by Dec. 13.

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