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A historic vote in Colorado will bring gray wolves back to the ecosytem

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Gray wolves are set to return to Colorado after voters elected to reintroduce them to the state by 2023. The historic Proposition 114 passed with 50.4% of the total votes, and it directs state wildlife managers to bring wolves back to Colorado's western mountains.

Gray wolves were hunted and trapped to extinction in the 1940s, and according to the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund (RMWAF), this has resulted in the ecosystem suffering and becoming out of balance. "A lack of natural balance means that too many elk and deer eat away the vegetation that holds streams and rivers back, leading to erosion and the disruption of even more habitats, like those for native beavers and songbirds," it says. "Wolves also naturally limit the spread of disease, such as Chronic Wasting Disease, by taking vulnerable animals out of the population."

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A wolf in autumn surroundings.
Gray wolves were hunted and trapped to extinction in the 1940s in Colorado © AYImages/Getty Images

Wildlife biologists usually make the decisions around reintroducing wildlife species, and this is the first time American voters have ever been the decision-makers. RMWAF estimates that between 20 and 30 wolves may be introduced in the first year, as that's what scientists estimate will need to be restored to start the process. "Depending on how that goes, we might need another 15 or so a year for around four years to really make the restoration stick," it says.

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Reintroductions will begin as early as 2022 but no later than 2023, after Colorado's Wolf Restoration Plan is completed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department. With input from the public, it will set a goal around the number ultimately introduced, making sure they can thrive again there and taking into consideration how they're interacting with wildlife and humans.

The state will also provide fair compensation for verified wolf-related livestock losses, although according to RMWAF, since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, losses due to wolves make up just 0.1% of all livestock deaths. It also says that wolves are not a threat to humans, and have not killed anybody in the past 100 years.

Two wolves gazing into the distance in a snowfall in the Rocky Mountains
Voters elected to reintroduce wolves to Colorado by 2023 © rogertrentham/Getty Images

"Voters throughout Colorado took politicians out of the picture, choosing to restore natural balance by returning wolves to their rightful place in Colorado," says Rob Edward, president of RMWAF. "Now, together with biologists, ranchers, wildlife watchers and hunters, we will lean in to craft a future where co-existing with wolves is a widely shared value. We will put science to work to build understanding and trust. As we do, wolves will quietly get to work, restoring balance to our western wildlands and vitality to our elk and deer herds."

To learn more, please visit the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund's website here.

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