Cat Urbigkit: When Told All You Need to Know Is In A Government Press Release, Start Asking Questions

Columnist Cat Urbigkit writes, "When the [wolf release] information became public and caused the predictable controversy, a resident of the governor’s mansion tried to discredit the reporter who revealed the details and then told the public that 'everything you need to know' was in the government press release."

Cat Urbigkit

January 02, 20246 min read

Cat urbigkit cropped scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Last week’s column on Colorado’s wolf release generated its share of responses with hysterics on both ends of the spectrum, ranging from calls to “shoot, shovel and shut up” by some opposed to wolves to claims that my criticism of how the program was undertaken proves that I’m “anti-wolf.”

For those touting “SSS,” realize that what you are promoting is citizens becoming vigilantes. Self-appointing yourselves as the vessel of justice is not how our American governance system works. You are promoting illegal action with the potential for dire consequences.

Wildlife poaching isn’t justice and proposing “SSS” is incredibly stupid and dangerous. Illegally killing a wolf in Colorado is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and a jail sentence of up to a year. If you’re a rancher with public lands grazing permits, you could lose those too. If you’re a hunter, you could lose your hunting privileges in Colorado – for life.

As for those who point to my column as proof that I’m anti-wolf, that you are so bothered by questioning of the narrative you promote says far more about you than me.

Uncovering the truth, speaking truth to power, keeping government accountable, seeking transparency in how our government functions, that’s our job as journalists in a free press. I am a columnist, so it is my job to offer my perspective and analysis.

That I live with wolves in Wyoming’s predator zone (where wolves can be legally killed at any time) and share the dozens of non-lethal techniques to deter predators we practice with other livestock producers discredits the anti-wolf claim.

The real reason you label me anti-wolf is because I practice two unforgivable sins. The first is that we practice legal, lethal control of problem wolves that repeatedly kill livestock. The second sin is that I dare to question – and speak out against – the narrative you promote.

I feel that we strike a balance by removing problem predators without harming the overall predator population, but to the purists that’s not good enough. That we live with a whole host of predators every day of the year doesn’t mean that we “coexist,” according to those folks, because we practice lethal control when other methods fail to stop the depredation.

I get it, I understand that view even if I don’t see it through the same lens. But it doesn’t escape me that the same folks who are calling me anti-wolf don’t actually coexist on the landscape with the large predators in which they seek to protect from the likes of me, and who also want to tell me how to operate an animal agricultural operation, something far beyond their realm of expertise.

While voters from all across Colorado were able to make the decision to reintroduce wolves into only Western Colorado, only those who are expected to live with the wolves will carry the burden of that decision.

Any benefits attributed to knowing wolves are present on the landscape can be felt by anyone, anywhere. But any of the negative consequences associated with wolves will be experienced by those who will live with wolves. It’s not balanced, but life’s not fair, right?

As a rancher who lives in wolf range in a neighboring state, I was interested in how Colorado responded to its voter-initiated wolf reintroduction. I followed the work of Colorado’s stakeholder group and feel that it did a good job, especially in developing its compensation program for livestock depredations.

The compensation program for livestock losses is an attempt to make impacted livestock producers whole, but it can’t cover all the negative consequences that come from wolves, and it won’t. Still, it’s the best the state can offer.

The state wildlife agency was between a rock and a hard place in moving this program forward by the imposed deadline and hurried to make the best of a less-than-desirable situation. The agency had to make choices between hard postures on opposing sides, eventually selecting moderate options. Nothing would make everyone happy.

Colorado was banking on other states to cooperate with its plans, only to learn that most weren’t going to cooperate. Oregon agreed to provide wolves to Colorado, but when it came to sourcing the wolves, all but one came from packs that were involved in livestock depredations (something  that was obviously problematic).

Unfortunately, Colorado wasn’t up front with that information, so when it became public the rosy optics of the wolf release were tainted.

Instead of being forthright with the reasons why those wolves were selected (that the voters had imposed a strict deadline and no wolves were available that weren’t from packs that hadn’t already been involved in livestock depredations) and outlining how it weighed the ramifications, the administration was silent.

When the information became public and caused the predictable controversy, a resident of the governor’s mansion attempted to discredit the reporter who had revealed the details and told the public that “everything you need to know” about the wolf release was in the government press release.

Nothing sets off alarm bells like someone in power (or in this case, power-adjacent) telling the public that all they need to know comes from a government press release.

So, Colorado’s current administration is in defensive mode and doing damage control on a public relations fiasco.

Sometime in the future, social science researchers will report that “bad press” resulted in a measured decrease in “tolerance” for wolves among rural residents or people involved with animal agriculture.

It would be refreshing if they analyzed the blunders that caused such a reaction and understood that criticism of the way our government conducts itself is sometimes just that and doesn’t necessarily mean that we hate wolves (or that our views originated by reading Little Red Riding Hood as children).

The fact is that Colorado now has more wolves on the landscape, and ranchers will work to try to minimize conflicts with their livestock, with varied levels of success.

There will be people watching from high up in the cheap seats yelling about what those folks ought to be doing or telling them they are doing it wrong –without having a clue what the situation is on the ground, all the while saying that ranchers need to work with them to make the wolf program a success.

No worries though, I’m sure we’ll learn all we need to know in a future press release.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

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Cat Urbigkit

Public Lands and Wildlife Columnist