December 16, 2022 | NEWS | By Will Sylvain | Photo courtesy of the Colorado Sun
Last week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife released its initial draft plan to reintroduce gray wolves to the state of Colorado. CPW is Colorado’s state parks and fish and game agency, whose mission is to perpetuate wildlife resources and to provide a quality state parks system.
The CPW Commission will bring 30-50 wolves into Colorado by next December, hoping to eventually remove gray wolves from the state’s endangered species list. Public support for the plan has been loud, but opponents of the plan have made themselves heard too, making this proposition a tense and controversial one. CPW is hopeful, however, that the plan can peacefully bring back the wolves without causing too much harm to farmers and other animal populations.
Gray wolves were once native inhabitants of Colorado, and relatively common in the Rocky Mountain region. They were extirpated from Colorado in the 1940s, and it wasn’t until very recently, when a pack of gray wolves crossed into Colorado, that reintroduction was considered.
In that period of time, however, it appears that the wolves have been missed. In the summer of 2019, a citizen-led group called the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project began circulating petitions to gauge interest in a gray wolf reintroduction in Colorado.
In December 2019, the full petition was submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State with the backing of over 215,000 signatures from statewide constituents. This level of support was more than enough to earn the proposition a place on Colorado’s ballot in November 2020, where it officially passed. Support for this vote, however, was much more narrowly contested than expected. Passing by a margin of less than two percentage points, it was evident that Colorado was not united in backing the gray wolf reintroduction.
Even after extensive public engagement on the part of CPW, it became clear that the wolf reintroduction plan would not be a shoo-in. According to Travis Duncan, CPW’s Public Information Supervisor, the agency conducted 47 public meetings in 2021, involving more than 3,400 citizens, attempting to align the details of the plan to the wishes of the state community.
Most of the opposition to the gray wolf reintroduction comes, not surprisingly, from Colorado’s farmers. Wolves are notorious livestock killers, and can pose serious problems for farmers raising cattle, goats, chickens, or other animals. CPW is hopeful, however, that such concerns will be sufficiently considered, and that the reintroduction will have little effect on farmers’ livestock. But, just in case, a clause was included in the draft stipulating that farmers will be amply compensated in the case of property damage from CPW’s wolf reintroduction. Hopefully, this wolf-damage insurance will be enough to convince farmers that a reintroduction can be successful.
The existing draft of CPW’s plan will unfold in four main phases, beginning in December 2023 with the introduction of the first gray wolf pack. Phase two will aim to downgrade the status of
gray wolves from “State Endangered” to “State Threatened”, which will require a population of at least 50 gray wolves for four consecutive years. Phase three will change their classification from “Endangered” to “Nongame Wildlife”, meaning they are no longer endangered, but cannot be hunted, with the final downgrade from “Nongame Wildlife” to “Game Species” occurring in phase four.
Ideally, a fifth phase would dedicate a certain number of wolves to population control of Colorado College’s resident squirrels, but signatures are still being acquired for that petition. For now, CPW will continue as planned, aiming to remove the gray wolf species from the State Endangered list indefinitely.
If you wish to give input on Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s gray wolf reintroduction plan, the existing draft will be open to public comment on their website through Feb. 22nd, 2023.