Wolves once roamed wildly in Colorado," says Gary Wockner, Colorado State University wildlife ecologist and editor of Comeback Wolves, a new collection of poems, stories and essays.
As many as 39,000 wolves might have wandered Colorado in the mid-1800s, before the state enacted a wolf bounty and collected thousands of pelts for cash. By the late 1940s, "they were almost surely gone."
The reintroduction of wolves, now an endangered species, into the wild is "probably the most provocative wildlife issue in the Unites States right now," says Wockner.
The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, three of the largest environmental organizations in the country, have dedicated large segments of their public policy recommendations to wolf reintroduction.
The International Wolf Center of Ely, Minn., is dedicating its fourth annual International Wolf Conference to wolf reintroduction issues, and has located the conference in Colorado Springs this year.
Opposition to reintroduction comes largely from cattle growers whose herds graze the open range in the West and, therefore, are vulnerable to wolves.
"The West has a long history of severe contentiousness about this issue," says Wockner. He adds that in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where wolves naturally colonize along the northern peninsulas and ranchers tend to graze their cattle on closed, more protected lands, there are several thousand wolves and far fewer political arguments over the issue.
In Yellowstone National Park, where wolves were reintroduced during the Clinton administration, interesting data has emerged that fuels the interest of ecologists like Wockner.
"There is a ripple effect that we've noticed in Yellowstone," says Wockner. "The primary thing that wolves do is chase elk. And when elk are forced to run away, they don't get to just stand there and chew on the vegetation forever. What we've seen happen is, the grass grows again. Willows grow again. Beavers come back into wetland areas because there are willows. Songbirds come back. When you restore wolves, you restore ecological processes that have disappeared."
The same elk problem exists in Rocky Mountain National Park, where the reintroduction of wolves has been considered but has not yet been approved by the state of Colorado. Wolves have been reintroduced in recent years in New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
The idea for Wockner's book came about as a way to reach out and educate the public with a different voice.
"Most of the stuff the public hears about this issue is from scientists, policy makers or journalists," says Wockner. "I thought it would be interesting for people to hear from poets and writers."
Wockner and fellow editors SueEllen Campbell and Gregory McNamee invited friends, acquaintances and writers whose work they knew to contribute. Comeback Wolves includes pieces by Rick Bass, John Nichols, Clarissa Pinkola Ests, Kent Nelson, Pam Houston and many others.
The result is an eclectic assortment of essays and poems addressing a range of issues from "Invocations to the Return of the Wolf" to "The Voltage of Legends" to "Landscapes with Wolves."
"Our purpose," says Wockner, "is to try to sway public policy more favorably toward wolves in Colorado and the Southwest."
Fourth International Wolf Conference: "Frontiers of Wolf Recovery: The Southwestern U.S. and the World"
Antlers Hilton, 4 S. Cascade Ave.
Saturday, Oct. 1 through Tuesday, Oct. 4; Gary Wockner and other authors will sign recently published books on wolves, Sunday, Oct. 2, 8:30 p.m.
Open to the public; visit wolf.org for more.