Gray wolves could be coming back to Colorado sooner than you thought
Colorado voters decided in November to charge the state with the task of reintroducing gray wolves to Colorado.
With the deadline for reintroduction set at Dec. 23, 2023, Gov. Jared Polis wants to make sure Colorado Parks and Wildlife gets ahead of the deadline.
Polis urged the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission during a Jan. 13 meeting to work toward reducing the deadline for the reintroduction of gray wolves to Colorado from Dec. 23, 2023, to sometime in early to mid-2022.
Commissioners stated they are eager to move forward, but acknowledged that it would be a controversial process because of opposition to the ballot measure that passed in November.
"You don't want to be up against a deadline in three years," Polis told the commissioners. "You also don't want to rush it through and try to get wolves on the ground this year. I think next year is that sweet spot where you have plenty of time. You get to plan out this fall, you socialize it, we'll be able to do in-person meetings this fall, the COVID-thing will be out.
"So you'll be able to do listening sessions. There'll be comments on a plan, it'll be refined, amended, probably early the following year we can get it done."
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Proposition 114 was controversial between proponents of wildlife preservation and sustainable ecosystems, and of farmers and ranchers who are concerned their livestock and livelihoods could be negatively impacted by the resurgence of wolves.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the last Colorado gray wolves were killed off around 1940. That followed a long campaign by the federal government to eradicate the gray wolf population because of the animals' capabilities to prey on livestock and game.
Polis referenced the federal delisting of gray wolves as an endangered species under the Trump administration, which took effect Jan. 4, as one motivating force for speeding up the species' reintroduction.
The governor also said he doesn't want the wildlife commission to be backed up against the late 2023 deadline.
"This commission — and I think I can speak for all of them, and I'll let them speak also — but we're excited and eager to tackle this topic of Ballot Initiative 114," Parks and Wildlife chair Marvin McDaniel said. "It's controversial, it's going to be a tough one for us, but it is the will of the people and we do need to tackle it."
Polis broached the gray wolves' reintroduction timeline with a statement saying Colorado voters gave Colorado Parks and Wildlife "a very specific directive to reintroduce wolves in Colorado."
"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," said Polis. "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."
Members of the commission appeared eager to meet Polis' challenge, but they admitted it would be a challenge and asked for his support in their preparations going forward.
McDaniel asked Polis to trust the commission to do an expedient, thorough job of planning for public input hearings about the reintroduction timeline, and for his support throughout the process, because he anticipates requests for re-litigation of the original proposition.
"I can tell you that as a commission, we're getting pressure, Gov. Polis, from relitigating this in front of this commission, which frankly I, and I'm sure this commission, will not allow," McDaniel said. "We're not going to allow re-litigation of this topic.
"At the same time, we need a thorough reintroduction and management plan so that we know the ultimate reintroduction will be very successful. To your points, there's a sweet spot somewhere in the middle." "
Polis said he was confident the commission can orchestrate the timely reintroduction of gray wolves because of other successes with the Canadian lynx and the ongoing reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, which he said is a linchpin species when it comes to keeping prairie dog locations under control.
“Look, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has risen to this challenge time and time again,” said the governor. “The Canadian lynx is a broad success story. The black-footed ferret, they're working on now, we hope it's a success story, we don't have all the data yet but that's very important.”
He also noted that the wolverine is another species for which reintroduction is on Colorado’s horizon.
“You'll hear from your own biologists, wolverines are very solitary, they're in the high country, don't really bother folks, they'll be an important part of that ecosystem, they're actually scavengers, but not a great population density,” said Polis. “They have huge ranges ... and wolves, which they largely take care of themselves.”
Commissioner Jay Tutchton asked Polis for clarification of the reduced time frame.
“You never want to go right up against the deadline. That would indicate a failure of planning,” said Polis. “I think that you want to have enough time for public feedback and input, which probably means a draft plan in spring/summer, time for comments in the fall, and then time for implementation maybe the following year, so I think you're looking at early to mid 2022."
Polis said the summer or fall would be a good time to schedule public input hearings.
“Folks should have the opportunity to be heard and to have hearings in places, as well as virtual, and that input can be incorporated into the draft and hopefully finalized early next year.”