‘People like to make an example’: Wolf advocate says lobbying accusations are part of political war

Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Colorado wildlife officials tranquilized a pair of wolves and fitted them with tracking collars near North Park in February 2023.

A complaint against an environmental advocate is moving forward after Colorado officials said they found evidence of a lobbying violation involving a bill about the reintroduction of gray wolves in Colorado.

The man at the center of the complaint, New Mexico environmentalist Stephen Capra, tried to convince lawmakers to pass a bill that would have added some requirements to how ranchers handle wolf problems.

Capra is accused of acting as a professional lobbyist without registering as one. He says he may have inadvertently broken the law, but contends that people who hate wolves are making an example of him.

“People like to make an example of somebody,” he said. “This issue in Colorado is very emotional, and the people who hate wolves want to make sure you pay a price.”

Capra wanted lawmakers to pass HB24-1375. The measure, which later failed, would encourage ranchers to use “nonlethal coexistence strategies” when wolves feed on livestock. 

It was part of a larger, contentious debate about wolves in Colorado. The predators are being reintroduced after a statewide vote in 2020. Environmentalists argue that restoring the animals will help to bring ecosystems back into balance, while ranchers say the predators are a threat to livestock.

Capra said he came to Colorado from New Mexico at the request of Rep. Tammy Story, a sponsor of the bill. He said he met with Story and then with other lawmakers, including House Speaker Julie McCluskie. (McCluskie was not receptive to his pro-wolf arguments, he said.)

Capra’s advocacy, including a video he posted online, drew the attention of a man named John Williams. Williams submitted a complaint to state officials, pointing out that Capra had not registered as a lobbyist.

The complainant, Williams, is a public health physician based in Colorado Springs. He describes himself as a conservationist and hunter, as well as a supporter of transparency. He is the founder of a sizable social media group called Colorado Wolf Tracker, where people compile photos and GPS coordinates of wolf sightings

“It would [be] incorrect to characterize me as a spokesperson for ranchers, anti-wolf or even pro-wolf people,” he wrote in an email, noting that he did vote against wolf reintroduction. 

“I am certainly not a paid stooge for anyone, as Mr. Capra seems to imply,” he added.

What is Capra accused of doing wrong?

It’s not illegal to try to convince lawmakers to pass a bill. But state law says that “professional lobbyists” have to register with the state. A professional lobbyist is someone who is paid for their efforts to win over lawmakers. Capra receives a salary from the nonprofit Bold Visions Conservancy, of which he is the only full-time employee, according to a complaint from state officials.

“Capra lobbied multiple legislators on behalf of a paying client, all without registering, and without disclosing the client’s identity,” officials with the Secretary of State wrote in a complaint. In an interview, Capra said he started Bold Visions last year.

On May 13, officials with the Secretary of State referred the matter to Administrative Hearing Officer Macon Cowels. He could face penalties including fines and a ban, according to documents from the Secretary of State’s Office.

“All I can say is I’m shocked by what happened. By the letter of the law, I should have probably signed up to lobby for a couple days. I had no idea,” Capra said. He also faulted Story, the bill’s sponsor, for not telling him about the lobbying requirements. Story didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Williams also filed a similar complaint against a woman who was lobbying with Capra. But state officials found that she was an unpaid volunteer, so she didn’t have to register.

Ranchers are eligible for compensation if a wolf kills a livestock animal. HB24-1375 would have added some requirements before ranchers could get paid for predation losses. Under the bill, ranchers could only have gotten compensation if they used “nonlethal coexistence strategies” such as guardian dogs and anti-wolf fencing. However, the bill was defeated by the House Agriculture Committee in April.