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Colorado rancher hopes for wolves

February 8, 2010 |  3:55 pm

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Here's what we in the news business would call a man-bites-dog story. A western Colorado rancher is testing scat found on his land to determine whether wolves finally have returned to the state, and he's eager to get them back.

"It seemed logical to me, based on what happened in Yellowstone National Park, that keystone species like wolves might have a positive effect on biodiversity and restoring the health of aspens on this property," said Paul Vahldiek in a statement released by the Wildlands Network.

Vahldiek has already spotted wolf tracks on his 300-square-mile High Lonesome Ranch, but the DNA tests would be the first concrete evidence the species has reestablished itself in Colorado. 

For the past several years, rumors have rippled through the Centennial State of wolf sightings, but the animal has not been officially confirmed as moving down from its habitat in the northern Rockies. Wolves were wiped out in Colorado by federally paid bounty hunters in the 1940s.

It's safe to say ranchers and wolves haven't gotten along in recent years, not in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming, where the predators were reintroduced in the 1990s, or New Mexico and Arizona, where rural residents have fought against the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf. The canines are blamed by some for devastating livestock herds and threatening people.

Vahldiek clearly doesn't share all those concerns. The release from the Wildlands Network, a strong advocate of the predator returning to the Rocky Mountain region, says he became interested in wolves during a talk at a conservation meeting at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch.

The group's president, Michael Soule, said: "The return of wolves to Colorado would be proof that safe landscape connections are key to maintaining critical, keystone species in the West."

-- Nicholas Riccardi

Photo: A young gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: National Park Service

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