Colorado Lawmakers Want A Compromise On Wolf Reintroduction. Ballot Advocates Aren’t Biting — Yet

John Flesher/AP Photo
Gray wolves howl in Ely, Minn. On Tuesday an appeals court ruled they should retain their federally protected status.

Colorado’s battle over wolves is somehow getting more complicated. 

Earlier this month, an initiative to return the predators to Colorado won a place on the 2020 ballot. Days later, state wildlife officials confirmed a pack of gray wolves was already living in Colorado for the first time in 80 years. Reintroduction opponents quickly pounced. If wolves were already living in the state, what was the point of actively releasing them?

Now, a state lawmaker is trying to stop the snarling before anyone gets hurt — so to speak. 

On Friday, Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donnovan introduced a bill that would authorize a reinduction plan only under certain conditions. First, the state must identify revenue to cover the cost of any livestock lost to wolves. Second, the plan is canceled if the predators establish a self-sustaining population on their own.  

The bill also extends the timeline for reintroduction. Under the legislation, paws would need to be on the ground by the end of 2025. The ballot initiative sets the deadline two years earlier. 

Rob Edward is the president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, which is leading the ballot effort. His group has the option to remove their question from the ballot up until Sept. 4, 2020. He said there’s no way that happens if the bill stays in its current form. 

“There’s provisions in there that are just poison pills for us. So there’s a lot of work to be done,” Edward said.

For starters, Edward said lawmakers would need to move up the timeline for reintroduction. They’d also need to give a clear definition of what it’d mean for Colorado to have a “self-sustaining” wolf population.

Ballot advocates will have plenty of leverage in a legislative negotiation. A recent online poll commissioned by Colorado State University found 84 percent of Coloradans support wolf reintroduction. The idea is widely popular across the Front Range, the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains. 

But initiative opponents say they’re ready to fight it out at the ballot. Denny Behrens, co-chair for the Stop the Wolf Coalition, noted his campaign has already helped 30 rural Colorado counties declare their opposition to the ballot plan. 

“As the public gets more aware of this issue, it’ll realize it’s a bad idea for Colorado,” Behrens said.