Gunnison Prop. 114 impacts ‘too early to tell’
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A wolf in Yellowstone National Park.
A wolf in Yellowstone National Park.

Delisted, elected and now contested, wolves have had a whirlwind month in Colorado politics.

Just days before Coloradans narrowly voted to reintroduce grey wolves west of the Continental Divide, the Trump administration announced that the species would be delisted nationwide from the Endangered Species Act. The change in status is set to go into effect in early January.

On Election Day, after almost $3.5 million spent on campaigns for and against Proposition 114, the proposition to reintroduce wolves by 2023 in Colorado passed by 1.8% or 56,844 votes. Gunnison County, however, voted against reintroduction with 57.31% casting “no” votes.

But before the final election results had been tabulated, some of the same groups working to restore wolves to Colorado denounced the delisting decision and announced they would sue to keep wolves’ protected status.

With an Endangered Species Act listing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages wolf populations. When the species loses that status, regulation of wolves, including hunting and target population numbers, will fall to state agencies. Since 2012, wolves have been similarly delisted in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

If lawsuits filed against the delisting succeed, or if the incoming Biden administration reverses the federal decision, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) would need federal approval for moving wolves into Colorado. The uncertainty around whether the delisting decision will stand is one more variable to contend with in the months ahead.

The impacts of wolf reintroduction will be felt across CPW on the Western Slope, but with so much changing so fast, it’s still too soon to know what exactly those effects will be on local wildlife managers, said Gunnison’s Brandon Diamond, CPW Area Wildlife Manager.

“There are a lot of moving parts on that right now, including the proposed federal delisting. It’s just too early to tell;’ Diamond said.

Rebecca Ferrell, a main spokesperson for CPW on wolf reintroduction, responded to questions from the Times and said there is some detailed information “we simply don’t have yet.”

Staffing and money remain two uncertainties for the agency. A 2019 fiscal impact statement created by the Colorado Legislative Council estimated that the passage of Prop. 114 would necessitate about $800,000 in additional Colorado Department of Natural Resources spending by 2023. Those expenditures are expected to come from hunting and fishing license revenues, but if that’s insufficient to cover reintroduction costs then another source of funding will need to be identified. That alternative source of funds has yet to be identified, according to CPW’s information page on Prop. 114.

Even before CPW sets wolves free in Colorado, there will be demands on agency staff to develop the wolf management plan mandated by Colorado voters. CPW acknowledges as much in their page about reintroduction efforts. What that staffing demand will look like, however, “will be apparent after a management plan is developed,” according to the agency’s webpage on the topic.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, which oversees CPW, will have an opportunity to begin filling in the details on wolf reintroduction when the appointed body meets today, Nov. 19 by way of video web conferencing. Information on how to watch a livestream of the meeting is available on CPW’s website.

(Sam Liebl can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or editor@gunnisontimes.com)