DENVER–Even as U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt recently announced the recovery of the gray wolf and its delisting under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), Coloradans will decide November 3 whether to amend Colorado state statutes to mandate the introduction of as many as 500 wolves into western Colorado.
Proposition 114 would require the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission (CPWC) to undertake the effort, the costs of which would have to be appropriated by the General Assembly every year.
According to the state’s fiscal impact statement on the initiative, just setting up the program will cost nearly $800,000. There is no estimated budget for the actual ongoing management of wolves, but Prop 114 mandates that the General Assembly find the money somewhere, which experts say means taking the funds from other programs.
“There’s no extra money in the budget for it to come from,” former CPWC Commissioner Rick Enstrom told Complete Colorado. “It’s going to have to come from additional fees, or something else is going to have to go away. Is that funding for other endangered and threatened species? Is it from children’s education in public schools? Is it from any of the myriad issues Colorado Parks and Wildlife has to deal with every day with limited staff?”
And Enstrom, who helped develop the wolf plan for Colorado in 2004, is highly skeptical of the estimated costs put forward by proponents.
“Whatever anybody tells you the cost of anything that government does, you can multiply it by a factor of 10, and we have no earthly idea what this is going to cost,” Enstrom said.
One of the unknown costs, Enstrom says, is the inevitable cost of litigating disputes over what the environmentalists see as the “best available science” and what Colorado Parks and Wildlife decides are best management practices.
“The proponents are going to sugar-coat that part of it, and then it’s going to be completely lost. The discussion is going to be over, except for the lawyering, because this is going to be litigated one way or another,” Enstrom said. “Somebody’s going to have to pay for that and it’s going to be a fiscal catastrophe.”
This is hardly speculative given how many times environmentalists have sued the federal government to prevent or overturn previous attempts at delisting wolves from the ESA. There is already speculation that this delisting will likewise be challenged.
Enstrom previously told Complete Colorado that the measure is an irreversible decision that will damage wildlife management, decimate big game herds and cause plenty of uncompensated damage to livestock.
“Once it’s done it’s done, and then the ranchers and the license buying public is left to pick up the pieces,” said Enstrom.
Ted Harvey, Campaign Director for Stop the Wolf PAC, told Complete Colorado, “It’s bad science. This issue has been researched and had millions of dollars spent on four different occasions, under four different governors over the last 50 years. Each time Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has said introducing wolves in Colorado is a bad idea.”
Harvey scoffs at the notion that imported wolves will stay on the Western Slope.
“The wolves that have come to Colorado come from Yellowstone or Montana or Idaho and made it all the way down here to northern Colorado,” Harvey said. “If they can make it that far, certainly they can make it across the Continental Divide and be in Jefferson County, Douglas County and Rocky Mountain National Park, where we have obviously a rather large food source of elk.”
And once that food source is depleted, as it has been in other states like Wyoming, where elk herds are 10% of what they were before wolves were imported to Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s, other food sources will be tapped, including moose, livestock and family pets.
“This is just the epitome of foolishness when you see what the devastation is to the herds in the northern Rocky Mountains or in Minnesota and Wisconsin. There’s hardly any moose left in Wisconsin because of the lack of management of the wolves up there, said Harvey. “We have spent a ton of money on the reintroduction of the moose into Colorado over the last 40 years. Now we’re just going to say, too bad, we’re going to introduce wolves?
Harvey says it’s not just wild game and livestock at risk, it’s the economy of western cities and towns, already devastated by Governor Polis’ war on oil and gas, that rely heavily on seasonal income from hunters.
“Hunters spend a lot of money for out of state hunting licenses. They’re staying in hotels, they’re eating at restaurants, getting gas and going to grocery stores. The loss of revenue for our Western Slope municipalities and counties that rely heavily on the annual hunters that come into Colorado would be devastating.”
And because the initiative defines gray wolves as a “nongame species,” it appears that in the future, should the CPW decide that culling wolf packs is a best management practice, the public will have to foot the bill to hire professional hunters rather than recouping some of the money spent on wolves by selling limited numbers of high-priced hunting licenses, as is the case in Wyoming.
Harvey and Enstrom both say wildlife management by public vote is a very bad idea, and Colorado already has a wolf management plan that has been around since 2004.