Wolves…and wolves in sheep’s clothing

Two local challenges were made clear this week and they are challenges that could impact the long-term community for a long time. One is literally a wolf and the other is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

Let’s touch on the latter first…

The Gunnison County Library District has received another batch of requests to relocate books in its Young Adult collection that deal with gender issues. The formal notices claim the books are not appropriate for people under the age of 18 and should be moved from where they are to another shelf. The requests insinuate that it is for the benefit of the children. They come on top of another report filed with local law enforcement saying those same books should be removed from the library and “criminal charges filed” …presumably against the library administrators. 

The wolf in sheep’s clothing description is apt because that is how book banning and book burning, censorship and restrictions of art and literature begins. It seems so reasonable to keep a book that includes sexual language and uncomfortable gender illustrations out of the hands of the children. And that seems to be the case now. They are not on the children’s shelf by the Magic Treehouse series and there is no mandate to read This Book is Gay if you take out Green Eggs and Ham for your 5-year-old. I stopped by the Old Rock Library Tuesday morning and the books were on a shelf in a separate Young Adult section of the building and located above my line of sight. 

The teenage years are some of the most challenging for most everyone. Emerging emotions, spiking hormones, feelings not yet totally formed and mind and body changes that are real as a human develops and tries to figure out what it wants, can all make it hard. It is a time to talk to friends, to parents, to family and discuss the challenges – but that can be part of the challenge itself. Sometimes a teen does not want to talk about uncomfortable issues. For me, books in my local library were a deep pool of information I could access on my own without the struggle of having to explain what I was dealing with. I have heard more than once in the valley that that is the case with local teenagers as well. Those dealing with a variety of issues appreciate the availability of a book they can relate to and access. 

So, when people say they want to deny a book to certain people because it is for the good of the children, I raise an eyebrow. Maybe those making the request are the ones that are still uncomfortable. Maybe they are the ones who are having the issues and despite their claim of a benevolent reason for doing so – for the children – they are essentially attempting to bully those humans looking for information by denying them that access. 

And in Colorado they can do so anonymously, which is insult on top of injury. A district court judge has ruled that based on state statute, those asking to relocate or ban books do not have to share their names or where it is they live. They are cloaked behind a curtain of anonymity which to me seems the antithesis of how a robust democracy works. I support anyone to be able to stand up and make their requests that impact the community and are willing to publicly debate the merits of their argument. But to be able to push for changes that impact what I or my kids can access without having the courage to do so in the public square is a travesty. I don’t know if the latest requests for reconsideration of materials at the Old Rock Library came from someone living in CB or someone sitting in a cubicle in Missouri getting paid by the Koch brothers to make the same requests at libraries in Colorado, California and Illinois. The verbiage used here certainly reflects words used by people like the governor of Texas. 

While I would 100% support the idea of anonymity with what someone takes out from the library, I believe it is imperative to know who is attempting to tell you what books you are able to access in your public library. In fact, the CB News is in the midst of arguing just that in the Colorado court system (see page 17). In the meantime, be aware that there are people trying to ban or censor access to what is in the local library. And to say they are doing so for the children seems to me they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it will likely not end there if they get their way…

The other issue that has come up deals literally with wolves. The state has released its draft wolf reintroduction plan and the Gunnison area is one of two ground zeros – the other being the Glenwood Springs to the Roaring Fork Valley area just over the hill from Crested Butte. In other words, it won’t just be just coyotes we hear howling at the moon in the neighborhood. And while that sounds all old west romantic, it has the local ranchers taking a deep breath. 

As my recreation friends know, I tend to support the positions of the local ranchers first despite me being a recreationist. But I feel it is the active ranching community that separates us from other mountain resort communities, and I would advocate to give them a boost up instead of more problems. I want them here as an active part of our community.

And despite assurances by wolf advocates, the ranchers see the introduction of wolves in this area as a problem that makes their lives and their businesses harder. In the past, they have pointed out that while the wolf pack might first go after the local elk herds for sustenance — and they anticipate CBCS students will get a first-hand view of the circle of life as a wolf pack takes down an elk from the herd that makes the wetlands near the school their fall home — they eventually will stalk cattle. Cattle are the rancher’s livelihood. It is not just the taking of a cow or two but the stress it puts on the entire herd that results in pounds coming off the cattle and that is money out of their pocket. The local ranchers say wolf reintroduction will impact them, tourists, hunters and the community in general. They say despite good intentions, there is no going back to the early 1900s and they view this initiative as a way to put working ranches out of business. 

The state will be holding a series of public meetings this winter to gather more public input over the draft plan that puts our valley in the center of wolf habitat. One such hearing will be held in Gunnison in late January. That no doubt will be an interesting meeting. 

We are heading into the start of the ramped-up winter season. The nights are longer and the temperatures colder. The big jets begin this week to bring in loads of people to ski and enjoy our village and it marks the beginning of a busy time in a ski town. Enjoy the holiday season and get out to enjoy what it is we offer others…but be aware there are always challenges brewing in our valley.

—Mark Reaman

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