Voters Make Conservation History
After an 80-year absence, wolves will return to Colorado within three years. It will mark the end of a destructive error.
Proposition 114 directs state wildlife managers to reintroduce gray wolves to the Western Slope. According to supporters, this marks the first time that voters — in any state — have decided whether to bring back an endangered species. Hopefully, similar initiatives will follow across the nation.
Proposition 114 requires the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves by the end of 2023.
Under the measure, the commission will:
- Develop a plan to reintroduce gray wolves using the best scientific data available;
- Hold hearings across the state to gather information to be used in developing the plan;
- Update the plan after obtaining public input periodically; and
- Reintroduce wolves on designated lands by December 31, 2023.
The commission will determine the exact location of wolf reintroductions. The Flat Tops Wilderness area and the Weminuche Wilderness area both demand consideration.
The commission will compensate owners of livestock for any losses caused by wolves. The commission cannot impose any new restrictions on private landowners regarding land, water, or resource use to support the plan. The commission must prepare a report with data on the potential economic and ecological impacts of reintroduction, projected survival rates of the animals being reintroduced, and the potential impacts of not reintroducing the animal.
Budget analysts estimate the wolf recovery could cost $800,000 for planning over the first two years. It will require the same amount each year to implement the plan. A more precise estimate won’t be possible until the commission finalizes a reintroduction plan. It also depends on the amount of livestock killed by the wolves. (Studies have shown that depredation by healthy wolf packs is minimal. Depredation rises when ranchers, hunters and trappers kill members of healthy wolf packs. Instead of hunting, the remaining pack then preys on livestock—easier targets for younger, unskilled wolves.) According to the fiscal impact statement prepared for the initiative by the Colorado Legislative Council staff, implementation of the measure for the first two years would require state expenditures of about $344,400 in the fiscal year 2021-22 and about $467,400 in FY 2022-23. Expenditures would increase after 2023, when the wolves are reintroduced.
Gray wolves perform important ecological functions that impact entire ecosystems. For example, without wolves, deer and elk can overgraze watersheds, and disease can spread much easier among wildlife.
Wolves can help contain chronic wasting disease among deer, elk and moose.
Wolves can take down sick animals faster than when left alone to die of the disease. Since the bodily fluids and tissue of sick animals are infectious, the sooner that sick animals are taken down the better. This can help minimize prion contamination in the environment (it appears that wolves are resistant, if not immune, to prion disease). Most mammals, including humans, are not immune to prion disease. Infected wildlife can infect each other, livestock and humans. It’s a vicious circle that is being mismanaged in many ways. Wolves can help minimize prion pathways in nature.
Wolves support a healthy environment. Reintroduction is necessary to ensure that a permanent gray wolf population is restored to western Colorado. Colorado has a great deal of work ahead to rewild its public lands. Wolf reintroduction is a step in the right direction.
Read The Full Story About Wolf Reintroduction In Colorado.