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By Jim Mimiaga
The Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners has passed a resolution opposing any plan to reintroduce gray wolves into Colorado.
The wolf sighted in Jackson County, Colorado, in July was confirmed by Wyoming Game and Fish to be a dispersing male gray wolf from Wyoming. The collared wolf is from the Snake River pack.
The Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners has passed a resolution opposing any plan to reintroduce wolves into Colorado.
The resolution claims wolves would threaten livestock, big game hunting and household pets. It points out that efforts to reintroduce the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains have met recovery goals, and federal recovery efforts to do not include Colorado.
The county’s statement is in response to proposed ballot Initiative 107, which would ask Colorado voters in the 2020 election to allow wolf reintroduction on the Western Slope.
The Restoration of Gray Wolves Initiative requires 124,632 signatures by Dec. 13 to make the ballot. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, a primary backer, has reported it has enough signatures, according to statements made to the Montrose Daily Press.
An established population of wolves has not roamed Colorado since the 1940s. The gray wolf is a protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act in most areas of the nation, including Colorado.
Several lone wolves are thought to have wandered into Colorado in the past two decades from established packs in Wyoming. In July, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed a wolf sighting in Jackson County, on the Wyoming border.
If approved by voters, Initiative 107 would require the CPW Commission to develop a plan to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado. In doing so, the commission must hold statewide hearings to gather information for the plan and begin reintroduction by Dec. 31, 2023, on designated lands west of the Continental Divide.
CPW also is required to assist landowners in preventing and resolving conflicts between gray wolves and livestock and to compensate livestock owners for any loss of livestock caused by gray wolves.
Because the wolf is designated as endangered, reintroduction of wolves would require approval from the federal government.
However, in March 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed rule to remove the gray wolf from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife. The agency must reach a determination on the proposed rule within a year of its submission.
According to the Colorado Legislative Council, if Colorado approves Initiative 107 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife removes the gray wolf’s threatened or endangered status, reintroduction could occur in Colorado without federal approval.
Phyllis Snyder, of the Colorado Farm Bureau, who told Montezuma County commissioners about farmers’ and ranchers’ concerns, urged documentation of wolves already here as an argument against reintroduction.
“If we can prove and document wolves are already here, then there would be no need to bring wolves in,” she said.
Mesa, Garfield and Moffat counties also have passed nonbinding resolutions stating their opposition to the reintroduction of wolves.
If the measure were passed, Montezuma County commissioners’ resolution urges “wolf education programs include comprehensive and balanced discussions about the impact of wolves on local economies, and include the perspective of livestock producers, hunters and public health officials.”
CPW policy recognizes the wolf as a federally protected species and allows them to migrate into Colorado where they find habitat.
However, in a 2016 resolution, the CPW Wildlife Commission opposed intentional reintroduction of wolves based on recommendations of a 2005 Wolf Working Group. The resolution said wolf reintroduction was a potential conflict with the state livestock industry and current big game management efforts.
Advocates say wolves are necessary to restore the predator-prey balance in Colorado. They also say wolves have a historical presence in Colorado and would contribute aesthetically to Colorado wildlands.
Public polling of likely voters since the 1990s shows broad-based support for wolf restoration in Colorado, Erika Brown of San Juan Citizen’s Alliance stated in a report. A 1994 survey showed 60% support; a 2001 survey, 66%; and a 2019 survey, 67%. Majority support crossed gender, geographic and party lines.
“The results of the surveys indicate that the proposed ballot initiative would be supported by strong majorities on both the east and west slope,” Brown states.
The Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf has been reintroduced in the Gila National Forest area along the New Mexico-Arizona border.