Effort to reintroduce gray wolves forges ahead despite more Colorado sightings

Backers of a ballot measure to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado say there’s no chance they’ll withdraw their initiative, despite a push from opponents after more reports of wolf sightings in Colorado.

“We will be going to the ballot because the only way Colorado will ever have a self-sustaining gray wolf population again is through reintroduction,” said Rob Edward of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund.

“The people of Colorado have made it clear that they want a chance to have their say on this,” he added. “We’re going to give them that chance.”

Surveys over the years have showed widespread support for reintroduction efforts. In an online survey by Colorado State University last year, 84% of 734 residents said they would vote in favor of reintroduction.

However, Coloradans Protecting Wildlife, the group leading the opposition effort, has called the measure irresponsible, particularly amid a global pandemic that has hurt the state’s economy.

“There’s a significant number of wolves in the state, and we don’t think now is the time to waste taxpayer dollars working to force solutions on mother nature that she’s already figuring out,” said Shawn Martini, a spokesperson for the campaign.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has reported confirmed or probable wolf sightings in the state in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2015, 2019 and 2020.

Unlike some other ballot efforts, the wolf reintroduction measure qualified for the ballot before the spread of the coronavirus made signature-gathering difficult, but the pandemic has still affected the campaigns both for and against it. Proponents of Initiative 107 reduced their expected $3.8 million budget to $1 million.

Gray wolves are a protected endangered species in Colorado, and management currently falls to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, though that is expected to change. The ballot measure, if passed, would require reintroduction on designated lands to begin by Dec. 31, 2023. Colorado Parks and Wildlife won’t take a stance on the ballot initiative.

“It is not a question of ‘want’ or ‘don’t want,’” Parks and Wildlife officials wrote in an informational document on reintroduction. “We do anticipate they will eventually enter the state as some have already, and we are prepared for their arrival.”

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission opposed reintroduction efforts in 2016.

Coloradans Protecting Wildlife is concerned that the way reintroduction is being proposed will negatively affect the state’s tourism and agricultural industries as well as other endangered species and fragile ecosystems, said Martini, the vice president of advocacy at the Colorado Farm Bureau.

But Edward said effects on livestock are expected to be minimal and part of reintroduction will look at compensating farmers who lose livestock to the wolves. The money allocated for implementation won’t all be spent in 2021.

“If we’re going to have wolves in Colorado in a self-sustaining population doing what wolves do best and restoring the ecological dynamic of a healthy ecosystem, we need to reintroduce wolves,” he said.

Colorado State University’s Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence points to research that indicates it’s hard to predict what would happen if wolves are reintroduced outside of national parks, but the effects such as a reduction in prey would be more apparent in areas with higher densities of wolves.

On June 12, Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported an increase in possible wolf sightings across Colorado, noting reports from North Park, Laramie River Valley, Grand County and the northwest corner of Colorado. But it’s unclear if the wolves now living in Colorado will be enough to create a viable population, according to the CSU center.

A separate effort to reintroduce wolves through the legislative process ended last month after lawmakers sidelined many bills in the coronavirus-shortened end of the session. The bill sponsored by Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat, had aimed to address some of the concerns coming from the agricultural community about management and compensation.

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