COLORADO — With a Presidential election, a U.S. Senate race, and already a couple of ballot questions approved for Colorado- a lot of decisions will be made in 2020.
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund (RMWAF) is hoping to get another question on the ballot for the election- asking if you think wolves should be reintroduced in Colorado. The group is currently gathering signatures, they will need to collect around 125,000 to get the question on the November 2020 ballot.
“It's the missing voice that we have, it's the missing predator that we have,” Darlene Kobobel with the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center said, “we have to have that brought back just to restore that balance.”
Kobobel is also one of the organizers for a group trying to get the question on the ballot. She and proponents of the measure say it comes down to biology and adding an apex predator to Colorado.
The initial plan would be to introduce 20-30 gray wolves on the Western Slope.
“Right now, we’re out of balance, right now we have so many deer that it is out of control. Not that wolves would come into towns or cities but it’s still the fact that because of that, it’s just simple math,” said Kobobel.
The simple math isn’t adding up for hunters and ranchers, who say this could have a big impact on both industries. Ballot initiative organizers say there would be compensation involved for ranchers who are impacted by wolves.
“We take the philosophy that healthy cattle do a relatively good job with preventing attacks on their young, however if those numbers of predators continue to increase- it's naturally going to affect us,” Steve Wooten said, a rancher from Kim, Colorado.
Wooten, who also runs a hunting business in Las Animas county says he is concerned about Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) being able to manage the wolves. Wooten would rather see wolves not introduced, and instead allow them to migrate in from places like New Mexico and Wyoming- were wolves already are.
“The system is working like it should, introducing themselves at a rate that's manageable,” Wooten said.
Wolves have been introduced in the Yellowstone area including Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. This summer, CPW reported a wolf sighting in Jackson County. Through a tracking collar, CPW confirmed the wolf came from the Snake River pack in Wyoming.
Many hunters say they’re against the issue because they believe it could wipe out a majority of the wildlife populations they can currently hunt.
“They will feed on anything that moves,” Brett Axton, a hunter in El Paso County who runs the business “Rocky Mountain Roosters”* “it’s going to get bad when you talk about bringing in a major apex predator.”
Hunters say by introducing wolves and it impacting the wildlife, it would have a major economic impact on the outdoor industry. Axton says he believes this decision shouldn't be up to voters, instead CPW should make the decision.
It’s concerns from hunters and ranchers the organizers of the ballot initiative hope they can clear up and work to find a solution that benefits both parties.
“A wolf is always going to be a controversial issue,” Kobobel said, “There’s plenty to go around, I guess that’s what we’re saying is that they do belong here, we want to see them back here we want to be able to work with ranchers and hunters and come to an agreement together because they do belong.
Supporters also argue the environmental benefits of bringing in wolves, by helping to eliminate chronic wasting disease and feeding on parts of the environment to prevent erosion.
According to a study from the Legislative Council staff, if the question makes it onto the ballot and voters approve it, the cost would be around $344,363 for the first year of the program in 2021.
This cost refers to the work required by CPW to come up with a plan for wolf management. In the second year of the program, the council estimates it could be about $467,387.