Proposition 114 to reintroduce and manage gray wolves in Colorado passes, opposition group and CPW say

Posted at 6:22 AM, Nov 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-06 08:22:57-05

DENVER – The group opposed to Proposition 114 has conceded the race despite it not being called by The Associated Press, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife said the measure had passed, all but ensuring the measure will prevail once Colorado’s election results are certified later this month.

Proposition 114’s passage means that Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission will have to develop a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves west of the Continental Divide.

Though the Associated Press has not formally called the race, one of the groups opposed to the measure's passage, Coloradans Protecting Wildlife, said they had conceded that the measure had been defeated on Thursday afternoon.

“Coloradans Protecting Wildlife stands firm in our belief that the forced introduction of wolves into Colorado is bad policy and should not have been decided by the voters. While the election did not turn out as we had hoped, we are moving forward to continue to educate Coloradans about the importance of this issue,” the group said in a statement. “The election results demonstrate that nearly half of Coloradans agree with us. We hope these election results show proponents, lawmakers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife that next steps must be taken in a measured, responsible way.

As of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, with 91% of precincts reporting, the measure was still separated by about 26,000 votes after nearly 3 million votes on the measure had been tabulated – with the “yes” votes in favor.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife also sent a news release out Thursday afternoon saying the measure had passed and that the planning process for reintroduction would soon get underway.

“Our agency consists of some of the best and brightest in the field of wildlife management and conservation,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Dan Prenzlow. “I know our wildlife experts encompass the professionalism, expertise, and scientific focus that is essential in developing a strategic species management plan. CPW is committed to developing a comprehensive plan and in order to do that, we will need input from Coloradans across our state. We are evaluating the best path forward to ensure that all statewide interests are well represented.”

Coloradans Protecting Wildlife said that it remains concerned about wolf reintroduction but would work to prepare the Western Slope for the animal’s future reintroduction and work to uphold the rights of farmers and ranchers and others impacted by voters’ decision.

The measure’s passage was spurred by voters on the Front Range, who will not have wolves introduced in the area, as it is east of the Continental Divide – something Western Slope voters and 114 opponents had worried might happen throughout the campaign.

As of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the measure was only passing in 13 of Colorado’s 64 counties: Larimer, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Jefferson, El Paso, Summit, Pitkin, San Miguel, San Juan and La Plata.

All but five of those counties sit either fully or almost completely east of the Continental Divide.

The proposition’s likely passage and directive for the commission to develop a management plan could prove newly critical after the Trump administration removed the wolves’ endangered species protections last week, which will go into effect at the beginning of the new year.

Gray wolves were native to Colorado but were hunted to near extinction by the 1940s, with the last Colorado wolf being killed in the middle of that decade. About 6,000 of the animals now live in the Northern Rockies, Pacific Northwest and Western Great Lakes after the federal government reintroduced the wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the mid ‘90s.

Proposition 114’s expected passage has come during an interesting time for gray wolves both in Colorado and nationally.

The wolves were added to the U.S. Endangered Species list in 1978 as their numbers dwindled – all but eradicated from the Rocky Mountains.

But as their population grew following their western reintroduction, states like Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have started to manage them and allow some to be killed after they were delisted for those states.

Minnesota said last week that it would retain local control of wolf management but did not say whether it would return to allowing hunting, as would allowed for three years last decade.

But the Interior Department’s declaration that gray wolves had now recovered and removal of their endangered species protections last week open wolf populations in states that do not have management plans up to more potential hunting and trapping than states that do.

Though the Interior Department’s decision could be challenged in court amid opposition from some conservation groups, passage of 114 means the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission will have to develop a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves west of the Continental Divide by 2024, which would be utilized if the wolves’ de-listing is upheld. It is the first time the state will have to come up with a plan to reintroduce a near-endangered animal at the behest of voters.

Both the expected passage of 114 and the de-listing of gray wolves by the federal government come as a wolf pack is already believed to be in Colorado.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife said in February that DNA results from scat found near an elk carcass in Moffatt County confirmed the presence of three female wolves and one male wolf who were all related. In January, CPW officials confirmed a sighting of six wolves about two miles from where the elk carcass was discovered.

Supporters of the measure say reintroducing gray wolves to the state would restore balance to the state’s ecosystem and bring back an animal that was hunted to near extinction, but opponents of the measure, including many ranchers and farmers and many counties west of the Continental Divide, say reintroducing the wild animals could pose a threat to their livestock and people’s livelihoods.

There is a provision in Proposition 114 that would allow for ranchers to be reimbursed for the losses they suffer due to the reintroduction of wolves.

Click here for more on CPW’s current wolf management plans.