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The Colorado Gray Wolf Reintroduction Initiative is on the ballot in Colorado as an initiated state statute on November 3, 2020.

A “yes” vote supports requiring the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves on designated lands west of the continental divide by the end of 2023.
A “no” vote opposes creating a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves on designated lands west of the continental divide by the end of 2023.

Overview

What would the measure do?

See also: Measure design

The measure would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create and carry out a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves (Canis lupus) by the end of 2023. Wolves would be reintroduced on Colorado lands west of the continental divide. The exact location of wolf reintroductions would be determined by the commission. The commission would also manage any distribution of state funds that are made available to “pay fair compensation to owners of livestock for any losses of livestock caused by gray wolves.” The measure would direct the state legislature to make appropriations to fund the reintroduction program.[1]

What is the status of gray wolves in Colorado?

See also: Background information

Gray wolves were present throughout the U.S., including Colorado, before the arrival of Europeans in North America.[2] By the 1930s, gray wolves were eradicated from most of the western U.S, mainly due to predator control programs and habitat degradation.[3] The last gray wolves in Colorado were killed around 1940.[4] The gray wolf was classified as a federally endangered species in 1978 (except in Minnesota, where the species was classified as threatened). Gray wolves were reintroduced in Idaho and Montana in 1995 and Yellowstone National Park in 1996. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the gray as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the Northern Rocky Mountains. In March 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the gray wolf as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act across the continental U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that the wolves “are no longer in danger of extinction or at risk of becoming so in the foreseeable future.” The Rocky Wolf Mountain Action Fund said removing wolves from the endangered species list would result in losing restoration progress that has been made.[5][6][7][8]

Who is behind the campaigns surrounding this measure?

See also: Support and Opposition

The campaign supporting the initiative had raised $1.67 million in contributions. Opponents of the initiative had raised $388,619.

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund (RMWAF), associated with the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, is leading the support campaign for the initiative. The campaign has raised $1.55 million in cash and $122,500 in in-kind contributions. The largest donors were the Tides Center and Defenders of Wildlife, which gave $380,756 and $275,600, respectively. RMWAF said that the reintroduction of wolves would restore natural balance to ecosystems. RMWAF President Rob Edward said, “Gray wolves are the ecological engines of the northern hemisphere.” RMWAF wrote, “Since the 1940s, when Colorado’s last wolf was killed, our ecosystem has suffered. A lack of natural balance means that too many elk and deer eat away the vegetation that holds streams and rivers back, leading to erosion and the disruption of even more habitats… Wolves also naturally limit the spread of disease, such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), by taking vulnerable animals out of the population.”[1][9][10][11][12]

Coloradans Protecting Wildlife and Stop the Wolf PAC are leading the campaign in opposition to the initiative. Together, the campaigns had raised $388,619. The Colorado Farm Bureau was the largest donor, contributing $70,900 to oppose the initiative. The Colorado Farm Bureau’s Vice President of Advocacy, Shawn Martini, said, “We remain skeptical that you can introduce wolves into Colorado and not create significant problems. Not only to our way of life here in the state which is based on outdoor recreations but also on livestock production in the western part of the state and to the ecosystem. Colorado is home to a number of endangered species that could be potentially be preyed upon by an apex predator like the Canadian gray wolf. So we’re skeptical that these kinds of decisions should be put in the hands of voters through a ballot initiative.”[13]

Measure design

The measure would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves on designated lands west of the continental divide by the end of 2023. Under the measure, the commission would be directed to do the following:[1]

  • develop a plan to reintroduce gray wolves “using the best scientific data available”;
  • hold hearings across the state to gather information to be used in developing the plan;
  • update the plan after obtaining public input periodically; and
  • reintroduce wolves on designated lands by December 31, 2023.

Under the measure, the commission would be tasked with paying “fair compensation to owners of livestock for any losses of livestock caused by gray wolves.” The commission would not be able to impose any restrictions on private landowners regarding land, water, or resource use in furtherance of the plan.[1]

The reintroduction plan would need to comply with Colorado Revised Statutes § 33-2-105.7, which outlines reporting requirements. The commission would need to prepare a report with data on the potential economic and ecological impacts of reintroduction, projected survival rates of the animals being reintroduced, and the potential impacts of not reintroducing the animal. The report would need to be submitted to the general assembly within 30 days of its completion. For five years, the commission would need to prepare an annual report with data on the status of the reintroduction effort, survival rates of the reintroduced animal, and goals and timelines of the reintroduction program.[1]

The measure directs the state legislature to make appropriations to fund the reintroduction program and authorizes the legislature to adopt legislation to further the goals under the initiative to reintroduce gray wolves to Colorado.[1]

According to the fiscal impact statement prepared for the initiative by the Colorado Legislative Council Staff, implementation of the measure for the first two years would require state expenditures of about $344,400 in the fiscal year 2021-22 and about $467,400 in FY 2022-32. According to the statement, expenditures would increase as the reintroduction plan is implemented and wolves are reintroduced.[14]

Text of measure

Ballot title

The ballot title for the measure is below:[1]

Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning the restoration of gray wolves through their reintroduction on designated lands in Colorado located west of the continental divide, and, in connection therewith, requiring the Colorado parks and wildlife commission, after holding statewide hearings and using scientific data, to implement a plan to restore and manage gray wolves; prohibiting the commission from imposing any land, water, or resource use restrictions on private landowners to further the plan; and requiring the commission to fairly compensate owners for losses of livestock caused by gray wolves? [15]

Full text

The full text of the measure can be read below.

Support

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund (RMWAF) is leading the campaign in support of the initiative.[9]

Supporters

Former Officials

Individuals

Arguments

  • The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund: The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund wrote that actions taken after the gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act “have led to the restoration of roughly 6,000 wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington, as of 2016. However, recent lobbying efforts have attempted to remove the gray wolf from the protections of the ESA, putting them at risk of losing the progress made to restore them to their natural habitats. It’s on us to bring them home for good.” RMWAF also wrote, “Why should we reintroduce wolves to Colorado? Since the 1940s, when Colorado’s last wolf was killed, our ecosystem has suffered. A lack of natural balance means that too many elk and deer eat away the vegetation that holds streams and rivers back, leading to erosion and the disruption of even more habitats, like those for native beavers and songbirds. Wolves also naturally limit the spread of disease, such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), by taking vulnerable animals out of the population.” [Source]
  • Erika Moore of the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center: “Bringing back wolves is hopefully going to have the same effect it did in Yellowstone where it actually revived the ecosystem. We do believe that wolves are necessary for the ecosystem. The ecosystems cannot support how many elk and deer we have, and over time we’re going to start to see a degradation of ecosystems due to that.” [Source]
  • Tim Ferriss: Tim Ferriss, an investor, entrepreneur, and author, donated $100,000 to the support campaign as a matching donation after his readers and listeners donated $117,578 on August 28, 2019. Ferriss said, “I’m making a $100K bet on a time-sensitive opportunity: reintroducing wolves to Colorado, and, in doing so, reconnecting wolves from Canada to Mexico. Western Colorado is the missing piece. As ecologists have told me, and as far as I know, this is the only clear opportunity in the world to reestablish a major carnivore at a continental scale.” [Source]
  • Gary Skiba, forner wildlife biologist at the Colorado Division of Wildlife: “We know that wolves strongly and positively affect ecosystems wherever they live. The restoration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is informative. … The bottom line is that wolves helped improve ecological conditions throughout the northern Rockies, and they will do the same in Colorado. … Proposition 107 provides an outstanding opportunity for Colorado’s public to set public policy. When the measure passes, the people will have made their desires clear, and the wildlife professionals in Colorado Parks and Wildlife will then use their well-respected expertise and knowledge to implement that direction and restore a native species.” [Source]

Opposition

Coloradans Protecting Wildlife (Rethink Wolves) and Coloradans Defending Our Wildlife are leading the campaign in opposition to the initiative.[16]

Opponents

Officials

Former Officials

Government Entities

  • El Paso County Commission [Source]

Organizations

  • Colorado Cattlemen’s Association [Source]
  • Colorado Farm Bureau [Source]
  • Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition [Source]
  • Colorado Wool Growers Association [Source]
  • Rocky Mountain Farmers Union [Source]
  • Rocky Mountain Farmers Union [Source]
  • The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation [Source]

Local governments

Arguments

  • Stop the Wolf Coalition: “Forced wolf introduction is not only a disastrous idea that will impact our wildlife, livestock, and Colorado’s growing population, but it’s also not fair to the wolves.” [Source]
  • Colorado Farm Bureau Vice President of Advocacy Shawn Martini: “We remain skeptical that you can introduce wolves into Colorado and not create significant problems. Not only to our way of life here in the state which is based on outdoor recreations but also on livestock production in the western part of the state and to the ecosystem. Colorado is home to a number of endangered species that could be potentially be preyed upon by an apex predator like the Canadian gray wolf. So we’re skeptical that these kinds of decisions should be put in the hands of voters through a ballot initiative.” [Source]
  • Colorado Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Chad Vorthmann: After a pack of wolves was reported in northwestern Colorado in October, Colorado Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Chad Vorthmann said, “Just as predicted, wolves are making their way into Colorado on their own. This measure is pointless and will only lead to wasted taxpayer dollars and increased bureaucracy. The proponents should let mother nature work its magic, stop trying to impose their will on the natural world, and retract their ballot measure.” [Source]
  • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Chief Conservation Officer Blake Henning: “A forced introduction of wolves to Colorado would cost untold amounts of taxpayer dollars, redirect already limited wildlife management resources and would have a significant negative economic impact to the state. In Colorado, you are dealing with about a third of the land mass of the Northern Rockies’ states but almost double the human population. A forced reintroduction would trigger the potential for real issues in the state.” [Source]
  • Former state wildlife commissioner Rick Enstrom: “There are two issues. One is the effect on the people in the pickup trucks doing the Lord’s work for the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who are in short supply on both sides. The other big problem is that the funding structure is predicated on the sale of big game licenses. That’s the money we [use to] manage everything, from greenback trout to Prebles meadow jumping mice to stocking trout, to the establishment of state wildlife areas and their management. Any time you do anything to a budget they just start taking it out of other budgets because there is no extra money.” [Source]
  • Former Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist and wildlife manager Al Trujillo: “The last time a wildlife-related ballot measure was voted on we ended up with an abundance of black bears in our cities, our neighborhoods, our homes and in our cars. I’ve often wondered what Colorado looked like 300 years ago when wolves, buffalo and grizzly bear thrived across our great state; but after spending one-half of my life managing human/wildlife conflicts, I’m brought back to reality having concluded that in year 2020 there are nearly 6 million reasons why a wolf introduction is not a good idea.” [Source]

Media editorials

See also: 2020 ballot measure media endorsements

Support

  • The Durango Herald Editorial Board: “The anxiety and delirium around returning wolves are misplaced. Wolves are good for a restored ecosystem and even essential but their reintroduction is not by itself going to work miracles. And when we talk about putting apex predators back in an ecosystem, back to when? Before wild lands were replaced with pasture, where a wolf today will find its enemy as well as an easy meal? That is what it means to do this over the objections of people with livestock. If you want to return wolves, get them on board. There are people who work to minimize human-predator conflicts, like the group People and Carnivores. They can help. It will be tricky – but humans are good with stuff like that.” [Source]

Opposition

  • The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Editorial Board: “We urge voters to decline to support the petition. Wolf reintroduction may or may not be a good Colorado. But we think that’s for the experts to decide. Other states have made that determination based on the judgment of federal and state wildlife managers. Why should Colorado be any different?” [Source]

Background

Gray wolves in Colorado

The U.S. Department of Justice wrote, “The gray wolf (Canis lupus) once occupied nearly all of North America. Wolves, like other large predators in North America, were persecuted shortly after colonization by Europeans began and throughout the settlement period. Gradually, wolves were extirpated from the contiguous 48 states except Minnesota.”[20] According to Stephen Guertin, a deputy director for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “extensive predator control programs, magnified by the use of bounties, and combined with habitat degradation and a declining prey base, resulted in the extirpation of wolves from most of the lower 48 states early in the 20th century, with the exception of only a few hundred remaining wolves in northern Minnesota and Isle Royale in Michigan.”[21] According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the last gray wolves in the state were killed around 1940.[22] In December 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that there were 1,782 wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains region, including 333 in one of Colorado’s neighboring states—Wyoming. There were no wolves recorded in Colorado.[23] The following map from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service illustrates the historic and current (published in 2019) range of the gray wolf:[24]

Canislupus Map - Federal Register.png

Gray wolf listed as an endangered species

The gray wolf was classified as a federally endangered species in 1978 (except in Minnesota, where the species was classified as threatened). Gray wolves were reintroduced in Idaho and Montana in 1995 and in Yellowstone National Park in 1996. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the gray wolf as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the Northern Rocky Mountains (Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington and Oregon, and north-central Utah).[25][26][27][28]

2019 proposal to delist gray wolves from federal endangered species list

In March of 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the gray wolf as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service wrote, “The finding of our review was clear – the gray wolf has recovered by any and all measures required under the ESA. Gray wolves are no longer in danger of extinction or at risk of becoming so in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of the species’ range. Once the science indicates a species has recovered, it is the obligation of the Service to delist it and return management authority to the states so that we can focus our limited resources on those species that still require conservation attention.”[29][30]

Zack Strong, an attorney for environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “In our view, this proposal is premature because wolf recovery in the lower 48 states is not yet complete. Wolves have not yet returned to significant areas where they once existed historically and where there is still suitable habitat.” Collette Adkins, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “[T]he Act defines an endangered or threatened species in terms of significant portions of its range. If you just ignore all those areas where [wolves] once lived and look at the few places where they’re doing well and say ‘Oh, well, they’re doing well here. We can remove the protections,’ then you never will really get to true conservation and recovery.”[31]

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is a governor-appointed board of 11 citizens that oversees Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).[32] The 11 voting members of the commission include three sportspersons (one of whom must be an outfitter); three agricultural producers; three recreationalists (one of whom must be from a nonprofit, non-consumptive wildlife organization); and two at-large members. At least four commissioners must be from west of the continental divide. Ex-officio members include the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources and the Commissioner of Agriculture.[33] The mission of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is to “[Balance] the conservation of our wildlife and habitat with the recreational needs of our state.”[34]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Colorado

The state process

In Colorado, the number of signatures required to qualify an initiated constitutional amendment for the ballot is equal to 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of Colorado secretary of state in the preceding general election. For initiated constitutional amendments, signature gathering must be distributed to include signatures equal to 2 percent of the registered voters who live in each of the state’s 35 senate districts.

State law provides that petitioners have six months to collect signatures after the ballot language and title are finalized. State statutes say a completed signature petition must be filed three months and three weeks before the election at which the measure would appear on the ballot. The Constitution, however, just says that the petition must be filed three months before the election at which the measure would appear. The secretary of state generally lists a date that is just three months before the election as the filing deadline.

The requirements to get an initiated constitutional amendment certified for the 2020 ballot:

The secretary of state is responsible for signature verification. Verification is conducted through a review of petitions regarding correct form and then a 5 percent random sampling verification. If the sampling projects between 90 percent and 110 percent of required valid signatures, a full check of all signatures is required. If the sampling projects more than 110 percent of the required signatures, the initiative is certified. If less than 90 percent, the initiative fails.

In Colorado, the number of signatures required to qualify an initiated state statute for the ballot is equal to 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of Colorado secretary of state in the preceding general election. Petitioners have six months to collect signatures after the ballot language and title are finalized.

Signatures for this initiative were due on December 13, 2019.[36]

Details about this initiative

  • CEO of the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (CWWC) Darlene Maria Kobobel and Gail Bell filed two versions of the initiative: #107 and #79.[37][36]
  • Version #107 of the initiative was approved for circulation on June 21, 2019.[36]
  • Proponents submitted 215,370 signatures on December 10, 2019.[38]
  • The Colorado Secretary of State’s office announced the measure made the ballot on January 6, 2020, after finding through a random sample that proponents submitted about 139,333 valid signatures.[39]

Cost of signature collection:
Sponsors of the measure hired Landslide Political to collect signatures for the petition to qualify this measure for the ballot. A total of $1,122,630.00 was spent to collect the 124,632 valid signatures required to put this measure before voters, resulting in a total cost per required signature (CPRS) of $9.01.

Potential compromise legislation

On January 24, 2020, state Senator Kerry Donovan (D) introduced Senate Bill 20-121, which would authorize the management and possible reintroduction of gray wolves, as a possible compromise bill with initiative proponents. SB 121 would set wolf reintroduction to begin in 2025, two years later than the date set by the initiative. Under SB 121, reintroduction could not begin until “a new source of revenue becomes available to pay for damages caused by gray wolves,” and would be canceled if the gray wolf population in Colorado becomes self-sustaining.[40]

Donovan said, “This initiative allows for a certain amount of conversation. But with an issue as complex as this, which seems to be in flux with a pack moving into the northwest, I think it’s appropriate to take the deliberative process the general assembly allows and apply it to wildlife management in Colorado.”[41]

Rob Edwards, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, which is leading the campaign in support of the initiative, said, “There are provisions in there that are just poison pills for us. So there’s a lot of work to be done.” Edwards said the date for reintroduction would need to be sooner and a definition would need to be given for “self-sustaining population.”[42]

If a compromise bill was agreed upon between legislators and initiative proponents, initiative proponents have until September 4, 2020, to withdraw their measure from the ballot.[43] More information on Senate Bill 121 can be found here.

How to cast a vote

Poll times

In Colorado, polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time for individuals who prefer to vote in person rather than by mail. An individual who is in line at the time polls close must be allowed to vote.[44][45]

Registration requirements

In Colorado, an individual can register to vote if he or she is at least 16 years old and will be 18 by Election Day. A voter must be a citizen of the United States and have lived in Colorado at least 22 days prior to Election Day.[46]

Colorado voters can register through Election Day but must register at least eight days prior to Election Day to automatically receive a ballot in the mail. Voters who register after that point must pick up a ballot in person at any Voter Service and Polling Center. Voters can register online or submit a form in person or by fax, email, or mail.[46][47]

Automatic registration

Colorado automatically registers eligible individuals to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Online registration

See also: Online voter registration

Colorado has implemented an online voter registration system. Residents can register to vote by visiting this website.

Same-day registration

Colorado allows same-day voter registration for individuals who vote in person.

Residency requirements

Colorado law requires 22 days of residency in the state before a person may vote.

Verification of citizenship

See also: Laws permitting noncitizens to vote in the United States

Colorado does not require proof of citizenship for voter registration.

Verifying your registration

The site Go Vote Colorado, run by the Colorado Secretary of State office, allows residents to check their voter registration status online.

Voter ID requirements

Colorado requires voters to present non-photo identification while voting at the polls. Voters may also need to return a photocopy of their ID with their ballots if they are voting by mail for the first time. Click here for more information.

The following list of accepted ID was current as of November 2019. Click here for the Colorado Secretary of State’s page on accepted ID to ensure you have the most current information.

The following documents are acceptable forms of identification:

  • A valid Colorado driver’s license or valid identification card issued by the Colorado Department of Revenue. (Note: documents issued to not lawfully present and temporarily lawfully present individuals under Part 5 of Article 2 of Title 42, C.R.S. are not acceptable forms of identification.)
  • A valid U.S. passport.
  • A valid employee identification card with a photograph of the eligible elector issued by any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. government or of Colorado, or by any county, municipality, board, authority, or other political subdivision of Colorado.
  • A valid pilot’s license issued by the federal aviation administration or other authorized agency of the U.S.
  • A valid U.S. military identification card with a photograph of the eligible elector.
  • A copy of a current (within the last 60 days) utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the elector.
  • A Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaskan Native Blood.
  • A valid Medicare or Medicaid card issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
  • A certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate for the elector.
  • Certified documentation of naturalization.
  • A valid student identification card with a photograph of the eligible elector issued by an institute of higher education in *Colorado, as defined in section 23-3.1-102(5), C.R.S..
  • A valid veteran identification card issued by the U.S. department of veterans affairs veterans health administration with a photograph of the eligible elector.
  • A valid identification card issued by a federally recognized tribal government certifying tribal membership.

Any form of identification listed above that shows your address must show a Colorado address to qualify as an acceptable form of identification.

The following documents are also considered acceptable forms of identification for voting:

  • Verification that a voter is a resident of a group residential facility, as defined in section 1-1-104(18.5), C.R.S.
  • Verification that a voter is a person committed to the department of human services and confined and eligible to register and vote shall be considered sufficient identification of such person for the purposes of section 1-2-210.5, C.R.S.
  • Written correspondence from the county sheriff or his or her designee to the county clerk indicating that a voter is confined in a county jail or detention facility.[48][15]

Background

As of December 2019, 34 states enforced (or were scheduled to begin enforcing) voter identification requirements. A total of 19 states required voters to present photo identification at the polls; the remainder accepted other forms of identification. Valid forms of identification differ by state. Commonly accepted forms of ID include driver’s licenses, state-issued identification cards, and military identification cards.[49][50]

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