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CPW Commission votes on wolf plan, funding still a question

GOCO Board CD 4 ag seats open in 2021

In the second day of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting, the commission voted whether to adhere to the wolf reintroduction plan and process developed by CPW staff after Gov. Jared Polis asked them to expediate the timeline of getting wolves on the ground. The commission voted to adhere to the plan presented with one dissenting vote, cast by Commissioner Taishya Adams from Boulder.

Jay Tutchton, a member of the commission who represents non-profit organizations, is the preserve manager for the Southern Plains Land Trust in Bent County. A former lawyer, he has served as general counsel for WildEarth Guardians and was the senior staff attorney for Defenders for Wildlife. Though he speaks only for himself in regard to the commission, he said listening sessions on the western side of the state are important. During the commission meeting, Commissioner Carrie Hauser said the people most affected by wolves need to feel like this is being done with them rather than to them. Tutchton said Hauser’s statement was a fitting reflection of the entire discussion that day and is something he agrees with. He said, however, following an earlier timeline in line with Polis’ direction, is acceptable to him, as long as all of the prescribed steps are taken and done correctly. This will, he said, offer some cushion to meet the 2023 deadline knowing there are likely to be unforeseen delays perhaps in litigation or cooperation with the federal entities.

“I’m hoping wolves don’t suck all the air out of the room,” he said. “Wolves are an issue. I don’t think they’re the most important issue affecting wildlife in the state. I think the most important thing affecting wildlife is the 6 million of us — I’ve lost count. Human population growth and habitat loss. Those things are the things that will impact elk hunting long before and much more severely than a couple hundred wolves.”



WOLF THREAT

He likens wolves to a “shiny new object” that has everyone’s attention but said there are threats and challenges to wildlife and the ranching community that loom larger. Wolves, he said, have a way of monopolizing conversations when other challenges pose a greater threat and are things that are changing the state.



“The worst-run ranch is better than the best-run condominium complex,” he said. “Ranchers play a vital role in preserving open space and wildlife habitat, especially in the eastern part of the state where it’s all private land. If you don’t have the ranching community invested in conservation, you haven’t any place to conserve habitat.”

In the western part of the state, he said ranchers are still vital in conserving wildlife habitat despite the higher amount of federal- and state-owned land.

Moving forward to begin the process of bringing wolves to the western side of the state, Tutchton said he has long heard complaints about how the federal government “held all the cards” regarding wolves, rather than the states.

“We’re in this interesting world now where the federal government holds zero cards on wolves, at least currently,” he said. “I’m interested in a state-run program. That’s what people have always said would be better and they resented the federal government telling them what to do.”

Beginning without delay, he said, could allow Colorado to get in front of the process if the control of wolves were to be returned to the federal government.

“If you let the federal government write what they call a 10(j) rule, they get the pen in their hand, which is pretty powerful,” he said. “I’m excited to get the process going sooner so we can write the rule.”

Tuchton said he’s guardedly optimistic that the federal government will defer to the state.

“I frankly think there are bigger issues out there that might bring people together,” he said. “Ranchers, elk hunters, and environmentalist groups all want to save habitat and then you throw wolves in there and it divides the groups. My own goal is to take some of the sound and fury out of the wolf debate. It will have impacts, but they won’t be as wonderfully positive as the wolf advocates claim, and they won’t be as terrible as the hunters or livestock industry claims, at least based on my experience in the Northern Rockies, and everything I’ve read.”

PREDATION LOSS COMPENSATION

His experience, he said, has also shown him that there is a need for a fair compensation program for predation losses. Proving the loss is a wolf kill can be difficult, and some losses are less visible like extra work and vigilance with a new apex predator or low conception rates.

“Ranching just got a little bit harder,” he said. “You’re going to have to be a little more proactive and more vigilant, and there will be some impacts. I’ve heard of programs called payments for presence, with the idea being if wolves are present on private land or a person’s grazing lease, we pay them for their presence. You pay them for a dead cow, too, but also to capture the hassle of having a new major predator.”

He said he likes the idea that if the public wants this, which they said they did, that CPW invests in the ranchers helping them make it successful.

“The benefits are felt broadly but the harms will be shared by a few thousand people,” he said. “Individual ranchers will be harmed by this, inconvenienced at minimum. Those are the folks we need to take care of.”

Before the first compensations are paid, the commission faces a long and expensive planning process and that money could come from a few different sources.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission that he’s aware of the funding the CPW will require to carry out projects including the introduction of wolves west of the Continental Divide. With a portion of CPW funding for specific projects coming from Great Outdoors Colorado, and with seven seats about to open on the board, it could be ripe for Polis’ picking.

GOCO funds a number of projects all over the state through grants and has a partnership with CPW. Half of GOCO’s funding is invested in CPW each year to build trails and new park amenities, maintain existing park infrastructure, remove invasive plants, reduce fire hazards, and inspiring children to love the outdoors. GOCO grants and other lottery proceeds make up 19 percent of CPW’s funding.

Positions opening this year on the GOCO board include seats from Congressional District 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Jody Rogers from Yuma currently holds the ag seat in CD 4 and her second term expires in 2021. Board members are appointed by the governor and are subject to confirmation by the Senate.

According to GOCO’s investment plan, For FY 2019-20, the entire state parks capital program consists of 21 projects with a total cost of $15,956,239. CPW requests GOCO funding in the amount of $8,352,917 to support this program, to be matched with $6,457,532 in lottery and other funding (primarily federal). This level of GOCO funding is generally consistent with GOCO funding levels for capital projects. GOCO funding stems from Colorado Lottery proceeds.

To apply for a board seat, visit goco.org.

ADDITIONAL NOTES ABOUT AG SEAT

Polis also told Commissioner Taishya Adams, with regard to strengthening the CPW’s relationship with and representation of indigenous people, that the conversation about access and equity needs to include people of color. Potentially, he said, it could include adding a person to the CPW Commission to bring greater diversity to the commission. Polis said he is “stymied by the rigid requirements” especially in agriculture seats that must be filled with a landowner involved in production agriculture, rather than a farm worker. Polis said a future seat for someone with a background in tourism and recreation will certainly be filled with someone who will add diversity to the commission. Commissioner Adams, who is a proponent for equity and access, especially for members of minority groups, also asked the commission to give preference to a female or minority-owned company to carry out upcoming listening sessions as part of wolf introduction.


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