MEEKER–The Rio Blanco County Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution March 16 declaring the county a “Wolf Reintroduction Sanctuary County.”
The Board took up a suggestion by local resident Jeff Madison, a former Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist, to formally oppose forced introduction of wolves into the county. Rio Blanco County residents voted 3,164 against and 439 in favor of Proposition 114 in the November 2020 election, which requires the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPWC) to import wolves to western Colorado by December 31, 2023.
In all, roughly 62% of Western Slope voters said no to the measure, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Front Range advantage. Urban counties, including Denver, El Paso, Boulder, Larimer, Jefferson, Broomfield, Adams, and Arapahoe County provided the bulk of yes votes. The measure passed by roughly 1%.
Madison suggested that the five counties on the Western Slope in which voters did approve Proposition 114, the Democratic strongholds of Pitkin, Summit, San Miguel, San Juan and La Plata counties be designated by the CPWC as the areas into which wolves would be released.
With a population of 6,384, a population density of 2.1 persons per square mile and covering 2,061,395 acres (3,221 square miles), Rio Blanco County lies in northwestern Colorado, north of Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs and includes the towns of Rangely, White River City and Meeker, the county seat.
Many on social media have not so tongue-in-cheek suggested that the wolves should be released on the Front Range in places like Boulder and Larimer Counties and Denver because they gave Proposition 114 its narrow 56,986 vote victory that places all of the burdens of wolf importation on the people of western Colorado, and none on front range urban dwellers.
According to the terms of the ballot measure, the CPWC has the authority to make that determination “according to the best science available.”
The purpose of the resolution is to try to protect Rio Blanco’s $18.8 million cattle, sheep and hay industry as well as protecting outdoor recreation and hunting that brings the Northwest Region of Colorado more than $10.3 billion in consumer spending.
The Board is extremely concerned about the inevitable detrimental impacts on livestock and wild game that forced introduction of wolves will bring.
The county is already suffering economic damage due to Senate Bill 19-181, which put sweeping restrictions on oil and gas exploration in western Colorado.
Board Chairman Gary Moyer encouraged other western Colorado counties to resist the unfairness of placing the burden of wolf importation on Western Slope residents and their economic future.
“We are more alike than we are different,” said Moyer in a press release on the resolution. “Right now it feels like a war is being waged on rural Colorado, and they are coming at us from every direction.”
The CPWC rejected a request by Governor Polis to accelerate the reintroduction earlier this year.
“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,” Polis told the CPWC at a January 13 regular meeting, but the CPWC decided to stick with the statute’s deadline.
The CPWC comprises an 11-member board made up of citizens from around the state appointed by the Governor and sets regulations and policies for the Division of Parks and Wildlife, which manages Colorado’s 42 state parks, more than 300 state wildlife areas, as well as Colorado’s wildlife, hunting and state recreational programs.
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