(Colorado) On May 16th, Governor Polis vetoed Senate Bill 23-256, removing the last hurdle to Colorado's wolf reintroduction plan.
The Back Story
In November 2020, Colorado voters passed Proposition #114 with a narrow margin of 50.91%. The approved ballot measure allowed for the careful reintroduction of gray wolves into Colorado, a species that once roamed freely in the state.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) drafted a plan for the reintroduction of the species and presented it to the public in December 2022. For months, CPW staff hosted statewide public meetings where stakeholders could ask questions, express concerns, and provide feedback on the proposal.
The final edit of the Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan incorporated the feedback, making revisions to both compensation (the livestock compensation cap was increased to $15,000 per animal) and wolf management.
After more than two years of research, outreach, and education, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approved the one hundred and seven-page plan on May 3rd with a unanimous vote of 11-0.
The commissions' approval cleared the way for the reintroduction of gray wolves into their historic habitat on the Western Slope of Colorado by December 31st, 2023.
Despite this approval, a hurdle remained - Senate Bill 23-256.
In 2022, gray wolves became protected under the Endangered Species Act, and this designation prohibits harming or killing the protected species. This blanket protection concerned some Colorado lawmakers, landowners, and residents, and their response was Senate Bill 23-256.
The bill mandated that a 10(j) ruling from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service be in place before wolf reintroduction. This ruling would designate wolves as an "experimental population" allowing more options in the management of the species. For example, ranchers would be able to protect their livestock in the event of a wolf encounter.
Yesterday, Governor Polis vetoed Senate Bill 23-256.
In his veto letter, Polis writes, "(SB 23-256)... is unnecessary and undermines the voters' intent and the hard work of the Parks and Wildlife Commission..."
Polis supports seeking 10(j) designation but felt the bill would have impeded state and federal coordination efforts that were already in place. He wrote, "The management of the reintroduction of gray wolves into Colorado is best left to the Parks and Wildlife Commission as the voters explicitly mandated."
The voter-approved wolf reintroduction will move forward as planned.