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CO: Colorado wolf reintroduction stokes fears, passions of ranchers, ecologists, sportsmen Miles Blumhardt, Fort Collins Coloradoan

Miles Blumhardt, Fort Collins Coloradoan

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In this picturesque valley 20 miles north of Steamboat Springs, where flatbeds rule the ranching roads and many ranchers’ way of thinking aligns with the GOP, Jay Fetcher is a blue dot in a red valley.

While neighbors drive Dodge Rams and Ford F350s, Fetcher drives a smaller Toyota Tacoma. He has walked his Clark and Hahn’s Peak ranches with former Colorado Democratic top guns Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

While his neighbors use horses to round up their cattle, Fetcher prefers fat-tire bikes. And he was on board when his son-in-law took such a disliking to hot-iron branding cattle that he started using ear tags with GPS chips to track and identify his herd.

Despite his contrary political leanings, Fetcher has forged a strong relationship with his Republican ranch neighbors over the nearly 70 years he’s lived in the Upper Elk River Valley. And while there can be plenty to debate politically, the two topics to which many in the valley agree on are keeping the land in ranching and keeping the wolf out.

While ranchers have control over the first topic, the second might be out of their hands a year from now. And that greatly concerns ranchers such as Fetcher.

“I’m more open-minded to wolves than probably a lot of my neighbors who fear reintroduction,” Fetcher said last month, sporting a sweat-stained Yampa Valley Beef cap while herding his prize Red Angus cattle into corrals to be trucked to Centennial Livestock Auctions in Fort Collins. 

Ranchers, like those in the Upper Elk River Valley, in large part eradicated wolves from the state by the 1940s. They despised them then and they don’t have much use for them now.

Jay Fetcher stands in the doorway of his barn with his Golden Retriever at his Clark Ranch north of Steamboat Springs, Colo. on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

But efforts are underway to return wolves to the same Western Slope lands where they were poisoned, shot and trapped into extinction.

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is gathering signatures to place a measure on the 2020 ballot forcing the state to reintroduce wolves. The group needs 124,632 valid signatures by Dec. 13 to place the measure on the ballot.

“While I’m OK with those wolves that wander in, I don’t want to manage wolves in Colorado by ballot,” said Fetcher, who has run for political office. “I want to manage them scientifically.”

Fair enough, say wolf advocates. They believe that’s what their Initiative 107 does.

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