DENVER–At the January 13 Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPWC) regular meeting, the CPWC began the process of forced introduction of wolves to Colorado pursuant to the statutory change in Proposition 114, which narrowly passed with a bare margin of 56,986 votes in the November, 2020 election.
The new statute requires CPWC to create a plan to introduce and manage gray wolves on designated lands west of the Continental Divide by December 31, 2023.
The statute requires the state, through the CPWC, to develop a plan “using the best scientific data available” as well as hold statewide hearings, including “scientific, economic and social considerations,” and to “periodically obtain public input to update such plans.”
Governor Jared Polis attended the meeting via Zoom and asked the CPWC to fast-track the process to get wolves on the ground in 2022 rather than 2023.
“I think next year is that sweet spot where you have plenty of time. You get a plan out this fall, you socialize it. It’ll be refined. Amended, probably early the following year,” said Polis. “We can get it done. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has risen to this challenge time and time again.”
Polis also noted that because the voters approved the statutory change no one can file a lawsuit to stop or delay implementation of the plan.
“You want to make sure everybody that wants to be heard is heard, [but] they don’t have the ability to re-litigate,” said Polis. “The voters have decided. We want to make sure that voices are listened to, and I think that summer into fall, it’s a safe time to do that. That input can be incorporated into the draft and hopefully finalized early next year.”
But later in the meeting the CPWC balked at being rushed and decided to proceed according to the statute’s deadline for beginning wolf introductions by December 31, 2023.
The CPWC is responsible for determining the location and timing of the placement of wolves as well as management of state funds to “assist owners of livestock in preventing and resolving conflicts between gray wolves and livestock; and pay fair compensation to owners of livestock for any losses caused by gray wolves.”
Money for livestock depredation claims are to come from the state wildlife cash fund “to the extent they are available.”
In fiscal year 2019-20 revenues from licenses, passes, fees and permits going to the wildlife cash fund were just over $129 million. Total wildlife expenditures were $151 million, so it is unclear where livestock depredation payments will come from.
It’s not just livestock depredation that’s a financial concern, the ongoing costs of wolf management, including dealing with a parasite already present in wolves that have migrated to Colorado that can affect livestock, pets and humans, will also come out of the wildlife cash fund.
The state fiscal note attached to the initiative estimates that it will cost in excess of $800,000 just to set up the management system and hold the necessary hearings.
Rick Enstrom, a former state wildlife commissioner, spoke with Complete Colorado in January, 2020.
“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,” Enstrom said. “Any time you do anything to a budget they just start taking it out of other budgets because there is no extra money.”
This means that either other CPW programs will be shorted or livestock owners will get nothing for their losses, as before introduction even begins there is no extra money “available” in the wildlife cash fund to pay for loss claims.
Whether this dilemma was intended by the authors of the initiative to help drive livestock off of public lands, as some claim, or it was simply a misunderstanding of how CPW is funded is a question the state legislature would need to address through amending the statute.
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