Opinion: Wolves are killing cows so quickly, voters may start to regret their decision

Direct democracy is like two wolves and a cow voting on what’s for dinner. By contrast, a republic system with representative democracy provides minority interests some protection from the will of the majority.

Now that a sixth cow has been the dinner choice of wolves reintroduced last December, Coloradans need to rethink their choice to bring back these predators and the initiative system that produced this ill-considered law.

Don’t blame wolves for preferring to hunt slow calf over swift deer. Veal is also tastier than venison, frankly. This was the predictable outcome of asking voters to make decisions about wildlife management. Most people do not have the experience or education to determine the impact of reintroducing an apex predator into a state where they have been absent for 80 years.

By contrast, the leadership team at Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a combined 200 years of professional experience in wildlife management and that’s just the top brass. Everyone there has the education and experience to make wildlife management decisions. The agency is also overseen by commissioners, appointed by the governor, who represent regions and interests. The system ensures that rural communities and ranchers have a vote in decisions that impact their lives.

CPW has been successful in maintaining healthy populations of midsized and apex predator species. The agency reintroduced lynx in 1999 and is considering bringing back the wolverine. Lynx subsist mainly on snowshoe hare. Wolverines, like other mid-sized predators in Colorado (lynx, fox, coyote, bobcat, large raptors) eat mainly rabbits and hares, rodents, birds, and carrion.

Black bears, one of Colorado’s two large predators are omnivores and while capable of hunting deer and elk, they will happily dine on grubs, fish, and berries.

Mountain lions are exceptional hunters of large game but like coyotes can be deterred from predating on livestock by guard dogs.

Wolves hunt in packs and simply kill the dogs and help themselves to a slow-moving and defenseless dinner.

Other states like Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska which have considerably more space and less population density can support wolves and grizzly bear populations with less risk of livestock predation. CPW commissioners and staff studied the likely impacts of these two species and resisted calls from rewilding advocates to reestablish them.

What experts rejected, a slim majority of Coloradans embraced and now another cow is dead. The law should be repealed but as long as Colorado has a referenda and initiative process, most such laws are likely to pass.

Another wildlife advocacy group, Cats Aren’t Trophies (CATs) is collecting signatures to advance an initiative to ban hunting of mountain lions and bobcat trapping on the 2024 ballot. If successful, the men and women who hunt wild cats will lose that freedom, CPW will lose the funding it receives from the hunting permits, and the taxpayers will pick up the tab for culling populations.

Ranchers’ livelihoods aren’t the only impact of allowing bare majorities to determine public policies, affected minorities be damned. Thanks to the referenda and initiative process we have conflicting fiscal mandates, a heavily taxpayer-subsidized light rail system with near-empty train cars, and a paid family leave program that will likely be insolvent in a few years.

Unlike direct democracy, representative democracy ensures some representation of minority interests, some weighing of costs and benefits, some ability to amend the law in a timely way, and some accountability for ill-considered votes. The ballot initiative we need most is the one to eliminate the process.

Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer.

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