Natural predators only one option available to planners.
Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012ALAMOSA — An examination of wolf reintroduction to the San Luis Valley didn't come at the prompting of federal wildlife officials.
But they'll still have to take a look at it, thanks to public comment last year urging the idea be considered as a means of controlling elk herds on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, where elk have taken a heavy toll on the cottonwoods and willows lining stream banks.
"Right now, it's a question. You have a lot of elk, a lot of people would say you need a large predator," said Laurie Shannon, a planning team leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We may not move forward with it, but right now it's on the table."
The mention of wolves takes up only one sentence in a 13-page document laying out the potential management strategies for the Alamosa, Baca and Monte Vista national wildlife refuges.
And it's not a part of the proposed option favored by the agency.
Still, the possibility of wolf reintroduction drew opposition at a Monday night meeting where possible strategies were unveiled.
Steve Russell said the move would be bad for livestock producers.
"I would like it kicked out regardless of how we merge alternatives," he said.
Paul Robertson oversees the Nature Conservancy's Medano-Zapata Ranch, which neighbors the Baca.
‘‘I don't think ‘C’ is a politically wise decision,’’ he said of the alternative that included the mention of wolves.
There were no public comments Tuesday in favor of the idea.
Researchers have cited the 1996 reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park for scattering elk herds and allowing the recovery of riparian shrubs like willows.
But wolves outside the park's boundaries have been a controversial topic, arousing opposition from ranchers, hunters and even governors.
Idaho and Montana have established wolf hunting seasons and a proposal to do so in Wyoming is under review.
The use of predators may receive some consideration in how the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve manages its elk herds.
Park officials are conducting a study of bison and big game at the park that is due out at the same time as the management plan for the wildlife refuges.
Then-acting Superintendent Karl Cordova said in November the Park Service had not ruled out considering predators as a means to control the elk herds.