The first steps toward reintroducing wolves into Colorado began with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approving a preliminary process for developing a wolf management plan.
The plan, which is required after the passage of Proposition 114 in November, was considered during more than six hours of informational presentations and discussion on wolf reintroduction that covered biology, federal delisting of wolves and the importance of stakeholder engagement.
CPW Assistant Director Reid DeWalt presented the plan, which was approved at the Thursday meeting of the commission. One of the first steps outlined is the hiring of an external facilitator who would manage the public engagement process.
Public engagement, as proposed in the plan, would include state-wide hearings, a stakeholder advisory group and a technical advisory group.
“The main objectives of our proposed planning and outreach strategy are gathering and sharing information to build public awareness and promote engagement across the state, design and implement an inclusive and transparent process to meet requirements outlined in Proposition 114, collaborate with technical experts and diverse stakeholders to share knowledge and draft management and conservation strategies and finally foster commitment and collaboration toward plan implementation,” DeWalt said.
Commissioner Carrie Hauser raised the issue of paying for the facilitator, who would work on the project for several years. CPW Director Dan Prenzlow said if no alternative funding is found, the cost would fall on the CPW budget.
“The big elephant in the room is who is paying for all of this because I think the costs related to this are going to be greater than anybody anticipated,” Hauser said.
One of the major points of discussion regarding the proposed plan was on the timeline. The plan gave an approximate timeline for the reintroduction of wolves that could take it close to the deadline of Dec. 31, 2023, which was imposed by Proposition 114.
On Wednesday Gov. Jared Polis said he thought the commission could move more quickly to begin wolf reintroduction in 2022. Polis said the commission should try to avoid taking the process too close to the deadline.
“It’s my hope that we can carry out the effort to reintroduce wolves in a way that makes sense for Colorado in a timely fashion,” Polis said. “The timeline was one that was proposed before the federal delisting and an unknown incoming administration. Given the outcome of both of those factors, I want to challenge the commission to fulfill the effort ahead of schedule.”
Several members of the commission concurred with the governor’s challenge. Commissioner Jay Tutchton said he preferred a plan that could allow them to extend the timeline if needed while still hitting the 2023 deadline.
“It would be very prudent for us to have a timeline that we can extend if conditions warrant, rather than a timeline that takes us right up to the last day so if the slightest hiccup comes we violate the law and the will of the voters,” Tutchton said.
More than 30 members of the public offered comments on the plan. Many commenters who represented ranchers, the hunting industry and western slope communities said they would prefer CPW to take as much time as provided in the law.
“The voters voted for a three-year planning process, not a shortened fast-tracked process,” Moffat County Commissioner Donald Broom said. “Please honor the timeframe in Proposition 114. Speeding it up to one year would short circuit the public input process and result in overlooking important considerations.”
Gary Skiba, a wildlife biologist and former Division of Wildlife employee who worked on the state’s current wolf management plan, said he was confident that the CPW staff would be able to engage with the public and develop a management plan in a timely manner.
“The existing plan was completed in eight months,” Skiba said. “With the expertise and professionalism of CPW I know the organization that I have always been proud to work for can put forward a superb reintroduction plan within a year, fulfilling the Governor’s direction.”
Many commenters made suggestions of who they would like to see represented on the advisory groups, including scientists who study wolves, affected industry and Western Slope residents. The plan as proposed allows for an application and review process to add stakeholders to the advisory group. The plan commits to including diverse voices in the group from affected industries and different geographical locations.
Commissioner Charles Garcia made the motion to approve the plan as it was presented, but noted that the timeline was flexible. Commissioner Taishya Adams was the only vote against the measure, saying she thought references to the years certain actions would be taken should be removed to allow for that flexibility. Several commissioners who voted yes made note that they expected the timeline to be changeable.
“I’m feeling rushed in approving a plan and that is a very scary place to be with something that is such a substantial thing, particularly in light of the other issues the agency faces like the megafires that we saw and the continuing issues and impacts economically related to the climate crisis and that’s sans wolf reintroduction,” Adams said.
Commission Chair Marvin McDaniel said the plan represents a starting point and will be changed and amended over time. He said what was proposed will allow the process to begin.
“Obviously, the agencies had limited time to put this together, but they want to get started, which is really admirable,” McDaniel said. “Let’s get a process at least approved by this commission moving forward. Obviously with the opportunity for it to be updated in the future, which in fact is actually required by the legislation itself.”