On September 9, the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund — the nonprofit driving Proposition 114, which asks voters to approve bringing wolves back to Colorado — announced the support of over seventy conservation-oriented organizations, including local groups such as the Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club, Evergreen Audubon, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Rocky Mountain Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, as well as notable national organizations including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity. They all signed on to a letter drafted by RMWAF president Rob Edward and several other boardmembers, which was sent to Governor Jared Polis and Colorado Department of Natural Resources director Dan Gibbs.
"We strongly support the reintroduction of wolves to the public lands of western Colorado," the letter reads. "Returning the missing howl of the wolf to the Colorado wild would greatly enhance the natural beauty and ecological health of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains."
"These organizations have been working on this issue together for at least six years," says Delia Malone of Colorado's Sierra Club chapter. "We all agree that wolves are vitally important to the restoration of Colorado's landscape, as well as the restoration of wolves across the continent.
"Colorado Parks and Wildlife is directly implicated as the administrator of Proposition 114 if it passes," she adds. "They will be the ones that manage and do the actual implementation of 114. Having director Gibbs and Governor Polis on board with this and understanding that this is backed by a large coalition of groups, not just a single group, is really important."
Stop the Wolf PAC, which is fighting the proposal, issued a scathing response to the letter authored by Ron Velarde, who worked for the state for 47 years, first with the Colorado Division of Wildlife for 44 years and the last three with Parks and Wildlife. He retired as CPW's regional manager for the northwest part of the state in 2017.
"As a biologist, I resent managing wildlife by ballot — wolves or any other species," says Velarde. Proposition 114 marks the first time that the reintroduction of any species has gone to a popular vote anywhere in the country, a move likened to a "nuclear option" by Edward. Continues Velarde: "Taking the responsibility of managing wildlife from a wildlife agency and putting it in the hands of the public that make a majority of their decisions with emotion rather than fact is a tragic mistake and will cause unintended consequences."
One consequence of another state's effort was revealed the day after 114 supporters submitted their letter. On September 10, Colorado Public Radio reported that two wolves that were part of the first documented wolf pack to be spotted in Colorado since the 1930s were likely killed after they roamed across the border into Wyoming a few months ago. CPW had announced the presence of six gray wolves in Moffat County last January, and many opponents of 114 have used that sighting as proof that wolves can make it back to this state on their own. In Colorado, wolves are protected by the Endangered Species Act, but in Wyoming, where gray wolves were reintroduced in 1995, the state now manages the wolf population. There, wolves can be killed without a permit, and Mike Phillips, an advisor to the 114 campaign, received an anonymous letter suggesting that two wolves killed in Wyoming were part of the Colorado pack.
For Edward and others behind Proposition 114, the killings back up their belief that the only road to wolf recovery in Colorado is through a science-led, intentional reintroduction.
"Whoever killed these wolves unwittingly demolished the myth of wandering wolves re-colonizing Colorado,” says Edward. “Their actions underscore what scientists have said all along: wolves from Wyoming will never give rise to a viable population in Colorado.”
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