Garfield County Commissioners voiced concern Monday over the potential to speed up wolf reintroduction in the state, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say they have not yet proposed a timeline.
Commissioner Mike Samson introduced the topic, which was to approve a guest column for publication in a local newspaper opposing reintroducing wolves on an accelerated timeline. Samson raised economic concerns for local ranchers and farmers with the reintroduction of wolves. The commission voted unanimously to approve the guest column.
“It appears that there are forces out there trying to hurry this up,” Samson said. “As the language in Proposition 114 requires CPW to take steps necessary to begin reintroduction of gray wolves by December 31, 2023. We are afraid that there are forces out there that are trying to get this done by this summer. We want to make sure our county objects to that.”
The guest column was produced by the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado and stated that it has filed a Colorado Open Records Act request for documents that might show the state plans to speed up the reintroduction process.
Rebecca Ferrell with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said staff is working to produce potential timelines for the planning process for the Parks and Wildlife Commission, which will be presented at its January meeting. CPW will have to create a reintroduction and management plan, as well as a plan to compensate ranchers who lose animals to wolf predation.
“Our initial intent and goal was to follow the spirit of the ballot initiative, which was that three-year timing,” Ferrell said. “That’s kind of where we started. After being asked by some of our commissioners — our commission is the one who will approve any plan that is developed — we certainly strive to look at what could be done, but also follow the spirit of the ballot initiative as well.”
At the Parks and Wildlife Commission’s November meeting, commissioners discussed the passage of Proposition 114 and the steps going forward. Commissioner Jay Tutchton did suggest the state could begin reintroducing wolves sooner than the 2023 deadline to take advantage of the federal delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species Act. However, three other commissioners expressed support for moving forward cautiously, emphasizing the need for public engagement.
Rob Edward with the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, who supported Proposition 114, said he has not spoken with CPW, but noted that the proposition did not preclude reintroducing wolves earlier than 2023.
“Nobody is advocating for a faster reintroduction,” Edward said. “We’re advocating for the process to get going and to result in wolves on the ground as soon as possible, not to wait until 2023 to have the first paws on the ground, which is completely within the confines of Proposition 114, the language of the law.”
Edwards said there have been several reintroduction efforts since the 1990s and that wolf reintroduction is well understood. He said CPW should be thorough in its planning and include the public, but that it should not delay the effort unnecessarily.
“There are really well versed wolf reintroduction biologists and political, legal minds behind this effort who are very clear, this is not something where we have to start from the ground up and create something out of whole cloth,” Edward said. “There is plenty of good science already completed. We know how to get wolves on the ground. The hard part is the long term project of coexistence. That is something that will have to involve the public from here to eternity.”