Episode 14

March 18, 2024


Standing Up for Coexistence in Colorado

Hosted by

International Wildlife Coexistence Network Josh Adler
Standing Up for Coexistence in Colorado
For the Wild Ones
Standing Up for Coexistence in Colorado

Mar 18 2024 | 00:36:07


Show Notes

Colorado looks to lead the pack with innovative coexistence legislation. CLICK HERE to support.



Representative Tammy Story



For the Wild Ones Theme Song by Priya Darshini

Seven Valleys Theme and Ground Luminosity by The Mind Orchestra

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] GUEST: We have to do what we need to do in order to protect the ecosystems that we are a part of so that we can all thrive and it's better for all of us in the long haul. [00:00:16] HOST: Welcome back to the for the Wild Ones podcast. I'm your host, Josh Atler. We're brought to you by the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, your resource for a thriving planet. On this episode, we're going to speak with Colorado's representative Tammy Story about the Colorado Wild Carnivore and Livestock Non-Lethal Coexistence Act, a piece of legislation that is leading the pack in the growing trend of coexistence legislation. In the past two years, seven other states have attempted to pass coexistence acts. Let's hope Colorado becomes the first to get it on the books. Before we discuss this exciting new legislation, let's get to know Representative story, one. [00:01:06] HOST: Of the bill's key sponsors. Thanks so much for joining me today. Representative story from Colorado, I'm really a huge fan of your work and all that you've been doing to help people understand the importance of public spaces and how we can all learn to share our landscapes with wildlife. Where did that start for you? [00:01:31] GUEST: Well, thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to share with you. I'm delighted to be here with you and look forward to our conversation. What got me started, I would say when I was a child, as a family, we spent a lot of time going hiking and camping and backpacking and time at the beach, time in the mountains, just on local trails. So had some pretty good exposure to the outdoors. As a child, I think I learned to appreciate it and continued to be an adventure seeker as I got older. I was a raft guide for a number of years for a whitewater company back east, primarily a weekend guide, and that was great fun. It was a good place to sort of grow up and continue to do outdoor recreation, winter camping in the snow and backpacking also and eventually made my way to Colorado. And what greater place can you be for outdoor recreation than here in Colorado with backcountry skiing, alpine skiing, cycling, boating, paddling on rivers, doing extended river trips, all those things. So it's kind of been a part of my life forever. [00:02:52] HOST: That's fantastic. And I'll add that there's some amazing trail running and trail runners out there in Colorado. I had the fortune of going out to interview Emma Coburn, who is a national champion distance runner out in Boulder a couple of years ago. They get to run on some of the coolest trails in the country. Yeah, that's cool. [00:03:14] GUEST: I've done a little running, but I've never been really competitive. Just done it to be outside and get exercise. [00:03:21] HOST: Yeah, that's where I'm at, too. It's such a wonderful way just to be outside, to be a part of it all and get to see places that maybe I wouldn't get to see otherwise, to explore the adventure of it, as you're saying. Looking at your time in office and the work that you've done as an educational advocate, better economic opportunities, public spaces, and health, these seem to be the primary values and benefits that you're looking to improve in Coloradoans' lives. Do you have a way to speak to how these different values weave together for you? [00:03:55] GUEST: So I don't think it's necessarily intentional that they weave together, but public education has been a strong part of my history over the last 25, 30 years as I had children here in Colorado, born and raised here, I was very engaged in their education and spent a lot of time volunteering in the schools where they attended, and started working on school accountability committees that are mandated by the state, where it involves a parent's voice to provide some guidance and support for activities that are going on in the schools, but then also at the district level, and really invested a lot of time there because I felt I had something to offer. And public education is super important. It's foundational to our democracy. Having an educated constituency in your own community, but your state, your country, and I think we want people to be well educated, well informed, be critical thinkers, problem solvers, be kind, respectful, understand how all of that weaves together to ensure that communities thrive. And so I invested a lot of time when my kids were in school and even beyond when they were both out of K twelve. I was still very invested in the school system and worked on board candidate campaigns and education initiatives for the ballot to try and bolster what we had in Jefferson County. And eventually, I felt the thing that pained our school district the most was lack of funding. And when you're isolated just within a school district, you don't have a lot of capacity to add more funding. Certainly through some ballot initiatives you can. But it was the whole system, I think, that was hurting. And so that led me to running for office and certainly invested a lot in public education on the front end and continue to be involved. I'm on the House education committee, was on Senate education committee as the vice chair for four years, and that's important. But those aren't our only issues in Colorado. And there's so many ways that we can improve what we do in Colorado to provide more opportunities for more people to be able to access not just public education, but access other services, including social and senior services, mental health services. There's so much that many people don't really have access to. And so I think working on those issues is also really important. But my heart is also still with the great outdoors and the environment and all the things in nature that we have to explore and opportunities to ensure that the wildlife out there and the plants still have an opportunity to survive and thrive. And a lot of that has to do with environmental causes and climate change. So I guess they do all sort of tie together in a funny sort of way. [00:07:10] HOST: And maybe it's because I'm actually the child of two public educators, one who is a high school health teacher for a long time. So feels like everything comes down to health, whether it's mental health, social health, or environmental ecological health, in that all these aspects of public management, public policy, are there to serve the public health in its many forms. [00:07:38] GUEST: I have a great appreciation for educators and for your parents. [00:07:43] HOST: Well, thanks for fighting for them and for funding and for the students as well. And the. It's really, really a challenging thing. Colorado, I feel, though, has become a bellwether state for the US in terms of policy making and as well as public opinion. And when the ballot measure to vote for wolf reintroduction passed, it was something that the whole world took notice of, a democratic choice to rewild and reintroduce large carnivores on the landscape. I was certainly paying attention as a journalist who had been reporting on human and wildlife issues. What was that like for you, and why did you choose to get involved in the reintroduction process? [00:08:30] GUEST: It was huge to take this step, especially the way Colorado did it, because we're the first state who has voted to reintroduce gray wolves to the state. Otherwise, it's been led by the federal government, and I think it has critical importance because wolves have been missing from the landscape for generations, really, and they're such a critical piece to biodiversity and healthy, healthy prey and even the plants that thrive along riparian areas. It's just so important. The whole ecosystem depends on those apex predators. So I was thrilled to see it get passed. And there was a lot of lead up to the actual reintroduction, a lot of planning time that was available for Colorado parks and wildlife to get prepared for this reintroduction. The expectation was that it was going to happen right by the end of December in 23. Along the way, I have a very good friend who worked really hard to assist with that process of the ballot initiative, helping to get it even on the ballot and then working to ensure that people voted for it. I would cross paths with her and she'd talk a little bit about the work she was doing. But the conversations got more serious last session when she started talking about a bill that would potentially challenge the process that was already underway. And I was like, I don't get it. The bill has already been passed by the people of Colorado and it's slated to happen. So why would this upend the process? So we had long conversations about that over time, and she started introducing me to others that were engaged to ensure that the process did continue and it was carried out. As I began to understand what was happening with some policy that was being introduced here in the state legislature, it didn't seem that that was appropriately placed and that it should be allowed to continue if it was going to upend the process that had been underway for years, that it might cause us to start the process all over again, that it could cause us to have to invest another million dollars from the state, of which we don't have a million dollars sitting around to start the process over and potentially could put us in a place where it could be delayed somewhat indefinitely in worst case scenario. And that would not be reflective of what the people of Colorado had voted for. And so I continued to look for answers and more information to help me figure out what I could do to help with that process. So I got involved and I started talking with colleagues and sharing more information with them to help them understand why I believe this bill would be detrimental. But in the end, after session was over, the governor vetoed that bill. So in the end, it did not have the detrimental effect that it could have had. So that was kind of my big introduction into working on policy that would hopefully help protect and preserve the process that was already underway so that we could get to a successful reintroduction in December, which we did. [00:11:51] HOST: Wolves always seem to bring lots of challenges and complications for humans. It hasn't always been that way, perhaps, but in our current societal alignments, the attitudes are often, as we know, just really far apart between stakeholders. But maybe you could just detail out what were some of the concerns that were voiced in this legislation that got vetoed. [00:12:14] GUEST: It was just broadly understood with the conservation community that if that particular policy had passed last year, it would have forced the process to start over, and that would allow livestock owners or people who felt personally threatened or their livestock were threatened, that they could potentially use lethal means. But the initiative that was on the ballot did not allow for lethal control. And if it had to start over, it was going to be at least a year, but potentially longer. And I think the long term was that if there was enough delay, when there was an opportunity for a new governor, then potentially it wouldn't be a governor that was favorable towards wolves. And so that new governor might be able to prohibit the reintroduction of wolves in the state of Colorado. And to me that was just an insincere way of addressing an issue that a certain population of people in Colorado felt would be beneficial to them, despite the fact that it would be in direct conflict with what the people of Colorado had voted for. And I stood on the side of reintroduction of grey wolves and wanted to see the process continue. And us fish and wildlife had confirmed again and again and again that the process was going to be complete, that they would finish their work in advance of the end of December deadline for reintroduction. And in fact they did. They finished the process. And I think the first grey wolves were introduced around the 18 December. And then about a week later, five more. It all came together the way I think it was intended to happen. And from everything I've heard so far, the wolves are doing fine out there and doing what gray wolves are supposed to be doing and going after elk and deer. [00:14:17] HOST: There are significant numbers of elk and deer where they've been reintroduced, which have a significant amount of chronic wasting disease. From our understanding that hopefully that will be a benefit to people who are concerned with hunting and game numbers, absolutely. [00:14:35] GUEST: It should make our herds healthier because they will go after the sick, the old, the injured, the weak ones. And I've heard people describe that, watched wolves analyze a herd of elk from afar and move their way in as a pack. And they will literally run past numbers of elk to get to the one that they have chosen to take down. So they don't just take the one on the outside of the herd, they go after the one that they believe they can take. [00:15:10] HOST: That behavioral piece of it, which is highly intertwined with evolutionary history, is so incredible from biologists I've spoken with. Their sense of scent is so profound that they can sense weakness, they can sense disease, they can sense these things. The other piece I'll add there is that wolves are only successful hunters about 20% of the time. So that other 80% of the effort spent on hunting is insane in terms of just spending calories in order to eat. Most humans, or at least privileged humans, don't spend that kind of calorific output just to have a meal. [00:15:52] GUEST: Right. That is pretty impressive, isn't it? Considering that it's a pretty well orchestrated effort by a team, by a family, by a pack of wolves when they go seeking food, that there would be that low of a rate of successful prey. It's good practice, right? And it's good teaching elements for the younger wolves. [00:16:13] HOST: Yeah. I will ask, how did you feel when the paws hit the ground? As we've been saying in December, with those first wolves to come back? Was it like for you? [00:16:23] GUEST: It was awesome. I would have loved to have been there. That would have been just so exciting, exhilarating. But I did watch the videos a number of times over and over again. I think it's great. I look forward to some kind of confirmation at some point that they are forming a pack or new pups this spring, potentially. I hope they continue to thrive and do what they need to do. I anticipate that there will be additional wolves in the future that will be released. And I think that's great. I think it's good for Colorado and I think in time we'll be able to recognize that it's working. [00:16:58] HOST: You revealed something about the legislation that passed the vote, which was the inclusion of non lethal protections against wolves. That's a really important thing to our work at International Wildlife Coexistence Network because we've seen on the ground through our projects for decades now that non lethal methods are effective and they're cost effective too, they can help livestock producers bottom lines as well. Why was that language included in the original legislation and why do you support non lethal? [00:17:34] GUEST: I haven't been a biologist or a wildlife expert, but I certainly have talked to numbers of them and have read some articles and gained some knowledge, even while not being an expert. But I consider myself sort of a tool to move policy forward. Good for Colorado, and I want to be informed when I'm working on policy. So I too have learned that, for one, lethal control doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to protect your herd better than before you utilized lethal control. And what's happening when you disrupt wolf pack, it upends their whole family culture and how they operate, because they're losing a very specific family member that has a specific role in that family. And it's not like another wolf is just going to pick up where that one left off and take on a certain role. So it sort of upends the whole structure and how the pack functions. And it makes it harder for them to do the work of, for example, going after ungulates that they thrive on for their food, because there's a link in the cog that's missing. And if more and more wolves out of a pack are taken out, it just makes the structure even more weak and them being less successful. So you end up with a pack that doesn't have the same capacity to thrive and to take down prey as they normally would. So they have to resort to other ways, other strategies, and become maybe more focused on seeking out carcasses that have been left by something else and not taking down their own prey. And so it's super important in that regard. But it's also more stressful, from what I understand, for obviously, a livestock owner who's constantly on the alert, feeling like they have to take out wolves, there's no evidence that proves or points to lethal control being an effective way to protect your herd. And in fact is more costly when we're going to provide, or can provide all the coexistence tools for their use, provide the training, the education, the guidance on how to install them, where to install them, how to rotate them cycles during different seasons, different areas. As the livestock herds wander on the range, there's just ways that they can utilize those tools that then protects their herd. Their herd is not nervous, they're not worried about conflict, because these tools work to prevent the conflict. And I think that's so beneficial. If we're going to all thrive in this ecosystem and on this planet, we need to figure out how to do it with the indigenous and native carnivores that we have now. Colorado can claim that we have gray wolves, which are important to the whole ecosystem too. And we need to do collectively what we can to help them thrive, because it's better for all of us in the long run. [00:20:51] HOST: I'm so happy to hear the kind of proactive equipping of producers and operators with coexistence methods, with non lethal toolkits. Maybe you can speak a little bit more about how Colorado is supporting that process or helping producers. It's more work, at least in the adoption of those methods at the beginning, albeit once they're in place, it seems like they become part of the operation. [00:21:19] GUEST: There's a cost for any business to operate, and when you take on a business like being a livestock owner, there are certainly costs to that business to operate. You've got costs for vet bills and for supplemental food if you have to bring that in, or fields that you have to keep growing and producing so that your livestock have something to feed on. And there's purchases and sales of livestock as that goes as well. And costs for employees that help make all that happen. I'm sure it's a challenging field, but there are people that are certainly very passionate about it. And I appreciate that. I appreciate that they are driven to do that work. But in this case, with the reintroduction of grey wolves, which there seems to be a lot of angst and a lot of worry and a lot of concern, and this fear of threat that is out there without any real proof, like they just have these fears that statements have been made that wolves will decimate their herd, that they will kill their opportunity to continue to be a rancher, that it'll decimate their income. And there's no indication that that will happen. In areas of Idaho and Montana where there are ranches that are using coexistence tools, they are so effective that their losses to gray wolves are so minimal. Like in the one, one, hundreds to 100 of a percent of loss to gray wolves because they use coexistence tools. I think if you have an asset that is your livelihood, the basis of your livelihood, if they are that important to you, that it's worth investing a little bit of cost of doing business to protect that herd. And if it's as simple as using coexistence tools, that could be provided for you free of charge, with all the education and the training that you need and all the guidance that you need. I mean, that's a gift that should be easily accepted by livestock owners. And the reality is, from everything that I've read out there, that there is far more depredation by mountain lions and black bears than there ever has been with gray wolves, with or without coexistence tools. So it's hard to understand how livestock owners could feel so threatened by an animal that hasn't lived here for a long time, but is native to Colorado, could be so threatening when livestock owners are already experiencing ten times, 50 times magnitudes of times more predation by the existing carnivores, mountain lions and black bears, eagles, fox, Coyote, all of them, they're already experiencing loss. They should not be worried about the grey wolves. And if they are, and it's a concern these coexistence tools will help guard against some of the predation that they're already experiencing. [00:24:31] HOST: That's exactly what I was going to add is these coexistence tools improve production across the board, no matter where the losses are. Occurring, including disease, weather, which are the leading losses. Dogs are also among the leading causes of livestock losses. But we've seen operations who adopt these non lethal tools, and their heifers are selling at higher prices because they've got more heft. They're coming in heavier and healthier. A lot of it comes down to carcass management, not leaving carcasses to be scavenged, which attract predators, not just wolves, and then also improving animal husbandry practices for livestock that can huddle or can protect themselves more from predation. [00:25:22] GUEST: Right? Yes. Range riders. [00:25:25] HOST: Range riders, which I particularly find exciting as kind of a new career path for folks who don't want to be stuck behind computer screens. I feel like, wow, what an exciting way to make a living to be out there and kind of playing referee or traffic cop between herds and wildlife. It sounds like a really good thing. Maybe you can explain to me, though, where the limitations are in terms of resources and policy that is driving the introduction of this new legislation to add more coexistence support. [00:26:00] GUEST: It's a little bit hard to determine right now, right? Because we don't have any baseline for Colorado, but the Colorado parks and Wildlife have a line item for being able to focus on the coexistence elements. And I understand that the Colorado Department of AG is to submit an amendment to their budget to ask for three additional for the same purpose. And between the CPW, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Department of AG, they have jointly put together an MoU, a memorandum of understanding that was released, I believe, in November that says they're going to collaborate and cooperate together and work on the education, the training, the use of coexistence tools, the delivery of those tools to livestock owners, the guidance necessary to help install them and help them understand when they need to be rotated, what works for their particular environment that might be different than someone else that's 20 miles away, depending on weather systems and the type of rangeland they have access to and water access and all those things. And so they've already agreed to much of that in this memorandum of understanding. And as it turns out, a lot of what's in the bill I'm planning to bring forward, much of that is in the bill as well, the same types of things. But the bill also requires that if you, as an owner, livestock owner, are to be compensated for a confirmed by a forensics expert that there has been predation by a wolf of your livestock, that you have to have been using the coexistence tools on the front end effectively like they have to have been in place. So that doesn't mean that you put up the flattery, the flags. One month and two months later they're covered in snow and then you have predation in the spring. It matters that they're posted and in use in a way that is effective in terms of conflict prevention. So that's an important piece of it. And I think like we were talking about before, as a livestock owner, you have this herd. It is your asset, it is your livelihood. You're counting on it to get you through and your family through with the financial benefits that you can garner through doing this work, then it is upon you to be responsible and utilize these coexistence tools where you fear the risk of grey wolf that may come and impact your herd. Utilizing these tools is a simple step to eliminate the risk of conflict and protect your herd. And potentially your herd, as you mentioned a few minutes ago, is stronger and healthier when you do those things. I think it's fair and it's responsible and it provides an opportunity for grey wolves to thrive in an ecosystem where they have been reintroduced, where they belong, where they are going to help with biodiversity and help with environmental issues, help with balancing out so many elements that are going to be ultimately healthier for your herds as well, and healthier for better for hunters to have stronger herds of the ungulates out there, because the gray wolves are going to make that happen by their presence. So the legislature has the ability to fund things that they believe are top priorities. And so we'll see how all of this plays out. But I think it's going to take time. And it's not like every livestock owner needs tools to be concerned about the gray wolves because they're in such a small area of Colorado right now. But clearly these tools could help them with other predation and conflict prevention as well. So I hope they take advantage of it. And I think between CPW and CDA, they have great opportunities to work with ranchers out there and help them understand the logic behind moving in this direction, that it's going to be better for them in the long run and worth whatever investment that they have to make in terms of their time. [00:30:40] HOST: You're really bringing up this aspect of integrating coexistence measures as an advancement in herding management, that all business models benefit from updating their management, their technology, their best practices, and that this is really just an advance in ranching and livestock production that, once adopted, carries diverse benefits to the operators. But why is it that Coloradoans, whether they're livestock producers and owners or not. Why should they get excited about this coexistence legislation? Why should they support it? [00:31:17] GUEST: I think there's enormous reasons why they should. Obviously, for the livestock owners, it provides better protection and provides opportunities for conflict reduction for their whole herds, whether it's cattle or sheep, whatever they have, and if that is their primary goal, to protect their herds so that they have healthier outcomes and better outcomes when they move forward for sale of animals, however that might happen, this is an important investment for them and also for everyone out there. Whether you're a livestock owner or not, just having a healthier ecosystem and healthier environment is good for all of us. There's climate threats out there everywhere. And when we disturb local ecosystems, if the deer and the elk are in the riparian areas and there's nothing causing them to move, then they just hang there because it's convenient and comfortable. They decimate the trees, the willows, the aspens that are in the area, that upends the homes for beavers. They don't have access to the wood that they might have had for the work that they provide for the ecosystem. It changes the fish population in the water. It changes the insects that are there. It changes the bird population because they don't have access to the life that was there for them. You end up with streams that have more opportunities for runoff and erosion because the banks are destroyed. With the Yellowstone reintroduction, all of these changes went in reverse when they brought the wolves back to Yellowstone and have improved the ecosystems there. And life has returned to those areas that has been missing for. I think it's imperative for all of us. We're in this time of threat where we're losing species by the hundreds of thousands that are being eradicated and with climate change and air quality, all of these things that are so important to the survival and thriving of our own lives, let alone all the animals and everything that they thrive on as well. In terms of plants, we have to do what we need to do in order to protect the ecosystems that we are a part of so that we can all thrive. And it's better for all of us in the long haul. This is a step in that direction, and it matters. [00:33:41] HOST: Well, I feel like Colorado is very lucky to have you as a representative fighting for its future and the future of all life in Colorado. So thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about these very challenging, complex questions that we have to really work together if we want to solve. [00:34:02] GUEST: We do. It does take a coordinated effort and I appreciate the opportunity to be with you. There are a lot of experts in the field out there that have spent a lot of time sharing with me and helping inform me and helping me get ready for running policy like this so that I can help others understand, too. So it takes a huge population of us working together to make this effort work. I look forward to moving forward with hopefully a very successful bill and an adventure ahead between two chambers and hopefully to the governor's desk. [00:34:39] HOST: It's this aspect of helping us learn or teaching us to work together better that, it seems, is this hidden benefit of wolves. The lesson that they have for us is we can do it. We can learn to work together. [00:34:53] GUEST: I'm with you on that. [00:34:58] HOST: Our sincere thanks to representative story for this lively discussion. The Wild Carnivore and Livestock Non Lethal Coexistence act is headed to the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment Committee in the Colorado legislation. If passed, this will be the most comprehensive non lethal coexistence act of its kind in the country. If you'd like to add your support to this important legislation, please visit our blog at wildlifecoexistence.org for more information. That's all for this episode of for the Wild Ones. We'll be back soon with that episode I promised you, featuring wolf geneticists. Until then, keep standing up for wildlife and wild places.

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