Pair of wolf bills brought forward by West Slope legislators pass committee |

Pair of wolf bills brought forward by West Slope legislators pass committee

The Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee approved a pair of bills sponsored by Senator Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Senator Perry Will, R-New Castle, to support Western Slope ranchers and their livestock by mitigating the impacts of wolf reintroduction in Colorado.

The bills would ensure Colorado Parks and Wildlife has adequate resources to mitigate wolf conflict and fairly compensate livestock owners for their losses. Public comment on SB 23-255 was heard first and with no people signed up in opposition of the bill, it moved rather quickly. The bill creates the wolf depredation compensation fund to compensate landowners and agricultural producers for depredation of livestock and working animals by wolves. For the 2023-24 state fiscal year and each state fiscal year thereafter, the state treasurer is directed to transfer $350,000 from the general fund to the fund. At the end of the 2023-24 and 2024-25 state fiscal years, any unencumbered balance in the fund that exceeds $100,000 is transferred to the wildlife cash fund. At the end of subsequent state fiscal years, the amount transferred to the wildlife cash fund is any unencumbered balance in the fund that exceeds 120% of the amount spent from the fund in the previous state fiscal year.

Sen. Dylan Roberts said SB 255 is “putting in statute the commitment Colorado voters made to livestock owners when they passed Proposition 114.” Roberts echoed Sen. Perry Will in recognizing the significant economic damage wolves cause to the livestock industry, as Roberts said has already occurred in parts of his district in Jackson County. Wolf advocates, including the Humane Society of the United States, testified in support of the bill. Senate bill 23-256 prohibits the introduction of gray wolves into an area if the United States secretary of the interior has not made a final determination as to whether the gray wolf population in the area is experimental, which gives the state greater flexibility to manage the wolves; or the United States secretary of the interior or the United States department of agriculture has not completed an environmental impact study under federal law.  

Roberts said CPW wisely applied for the 10(j) designation with the counsel of the Stakeholder Advisory Group and said he agrees with CPW that the 10(j) rule is vitally important to the success of the wolf reintroduction. CPW anticipates receiving the approval for the 10(j) by Dec. 15, 2023. Reintroduction is planned just two weeks after the reintroduction timeline and any delay could result in wolves being reintroduced to the state without the proper management tools CPW has requested. Once reintroduced wolves are on the ground, he said the rule cannot be changed. He pointed out that when Prop 114 passed, wolves were not listed as an endangered species as they are now, making the 10(j) more important. Sen. Will said the bill is critical and having the 10(j) in place is more important than he can adequately express.  

Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Gibbs spoke against the bill, recognizing that the 10(j) rule is the preferred path of Gov. Jared Polis, the DNR, and CPW. However, he said the bill ignores the will of the voters who approved the reintroduction by the end of 2023. Members of the committee repeatedly asked Gibbs whether wolves would be reintroduced without the 10(j) waiver and didn’t appear to be satisfied with his answer that DNR and CPW are working collaboratively.  

One of the sticking points of the bill for those who oppose it is in section 3 that allows for reintroduction to be paused until the time for an appeal or review has passed, which is a six year statute of limitations. When the gray wolf was listed as an endangered species in February 2022, proper management tools for CPW and Colorado livestock owners were restricted. A 10(j) Rule would allow the state to manage wolves in cooperation with the USFWS as an “experimental population” with more flexibility than typically afforded to listed species. It would permit ranchers and property owners to utilize lethal action as a method of last resort if their livestock or working animals are in immediate danger.   

In closing, Sen. Will said he has seen multiple cases of what he called ballot box biology in his career in wildlife management. “I lived through Amendment 10, through Amendment 14 which was the trapping, 10 was the bears,” he said. “I can just say as a wildlife professional in my own career, the ballot box is no way to manage wildlife in the state of Colorado. Bar none, it is the wrong way to manage wildlife.”

CPW is already in the process of requesting a 10(j) Rule from the federal government with hopes of its approval by Dec. 15, 2023. Should any delay occur, this bill would ensure that reintroduction is paused until the 10 (j) is in effect. 

Both bills passed the committee without amendment. SB23-255 will now head to the Appropriations Committee for further consideration, and SB23-256 will move to the Senate floor.    
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