Olive branch broken: Polis vetoes bipartisan wolf bill
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has vetoed SB23-256, a major blow to livestock producers in the state as the deadline imposed by the governor to introduce wolves into the state is looming large.
In a letter to the bill’s primary sponsors, Polis called the bill “unnecessary” and said it “undermines the voters’ intent and the hard work of the Parks and Wildlife Commission, the expertise of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff, the extensive stakeholding undertaken, and the ongoing collaborative work with federal partners.”
Primary sponsor and West Slope legislator Sen. Dylan Roberts said it was disappointing to see a bill that passed the legislature with such large bipartisan margins, 29-6 in the Senate and 44-21 in the House, not become law.
Roberts said his constituents in Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, and Summit counties were initially angry that Prop 114 passed, approving wolf reintroduction to the area. Every county in Colorado’s Senate District 8, save for Summit, which includes the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon, Keystone and Silverthorne, voted no on reintroduction by a significant margin.
“I think now everyone has accepted that and given their faith to the process and trust CPW that they’ll do the right thing, but not having this law in place, unfortunately, might give them some reason to distrust the process again,” Roberts said in an interview with The Fence Post.
Rep. Matt Soper, R-District 54, said the sponsors made a final plea to the governor to sign the bill, likening it to securing car insurance before driving a vehicle.
“That’s why it’s so important to get it done right and to get it done right the first time, because you don’t get a second shot,” Soper said. “You have to have the 10(j) first, and then the wolf population. You can’t have the wolf population and then the 10(j).”
Polis said the Parks and Wildlife Commission has already invested significant resources into this process and Colorado is on track to secure the 10(j) before the end of the year. The management of the reintroduction of gray wolves into Colorado is best left to the Parks and Wildlife Commission as the voters explicitly mandated.
Sen. Roberts expressed his frustration that the end of the year deadline Gov. Polis has referred to is a self-imposed deadline. The ballot language requires the reintroduction process begin by the end of 2023, which he said includes the planning process, not strictly paws on the ground.
In Colorado Accountability Project’s coverage of the governor’s concern with voter intent, Cory Gaines offered the examples of bills Polis signed that he said were not in line with voter intent. SB21-260, Sustainability of the Transportation System, made an appropriation to “create new sources of dedicated funding and new state enterprises to preserve, improve, and expand existing transportation infrastructure, develop the modernized infrastructure needed to support the widespread adoption of electric motor vehicles, and mitigate environmental and health impacts of transportation system use; expanding authority for regional transportation improvements.” SB19-181, Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations, boasts a lengthy bill summary and it followed Prop 112, a de facto ban on oil and gas production in the state rejected by voters. In 181, local entities are given the power to adopt more stringent authority over oil and gas and mineral extraction. The makeup of the oil and gas commission also replaced industry seats with environmental and wildlife experts. The commission ultimately proposed a setback rule nearly identical to 2018’s defeated Prop 112.
Gaines said both bills came about after voters specifically asked for consent on both taxes, fees, and enterprises and voted down mandatory setbacks.
“I guess wolves are different though,” Gaines wrote.
Both Roberts and Soper said their constituents are likely to be angry with the governor’s decision, though he said he doubts many will be surprised. Colorado Farm Bureau said, “the governor’s disregard for those living in western Colorado and his direct rebuke of the legislature’s will is not how we protect ranchers and their livestock nor is it how to ensure successful wolf reintroduction.”
Brought forward by West Slope legislators, the bill originally also required all legal challenges to reintroduction be completed before reintroduction could take place, but that provision was removed by the Senate after the governor’s office made it clear it opposed the language around litigation. Backers of reintroduction said those challenges could take years and would fly in the face of voter intent.
Rep. Meghan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs, was the other House sponsor on SB 256. She shared the disappointment of the other sponsors, including Sen. Perry Will, R-District 5. Lukens said in a statement that “I have heard from ranchers and farmers consistently that it is absolutely imperative we have the 10(j) rule in place prior to state-orchestrated wolf reintroduction, and this bill was a direct request from Western Slope constituents who will be impacted most by wolf reintroduction.”
The 10(j) designation would allow CPW more flexibility in managing the species by defining wolves as a nonessential, experimental population and would keep wolf management in the hands of CPW rather than U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
The topic of wolves has been contentious in Colorado after a ballot proposal narrowly passed by less than 57,000 votes. The proposal clarified paws on the ground by the end of 2023 and estimated the cost of the process’ first two years at $800,000. Since the proposition’s passage in November of 2022, naturally migrating wolves have entered the state killing cattle and working dogs.
The veto occurred just hours after Polis released a statement applauding the Supreme Court decision that California’s Prop 12 did not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause, allowing California to set its own regulations regarding pork production required to sell in the state. He said the suit was a threat to Colorado’s ability to protect animal welfare, reflect values, and allow states to enact future climate policy at the state level.