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Polis signs bill allowing Colorado Parks and Wildlife to study and conserve invertebrates, rare plants

Jared Polis signs invertebrate bill at Butterfly Pavilion
Posted at 9:09 AM, May 20, 2024

DENVER — Colorado's invertebrates, including many pollinators, and rare plants have new protections after Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 24-1117 into law on Friday.

On Friday morning, Gov. Polis signed House Bill 24-1117, titled "Invertebrates & Rare Plants Parks & Wildlife Commission," into law. This new law adds invertebrates — which are any animal without a backbone — to the list of species that may be studied and conserved in Colorado, and empowers Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to protect them. It also gives CPW the authority to do the same for the state's rare plants, which are defined as indigenous plants that are at risk of extinction.

He signed the bill Friday at the Butterfly Pavilion, which had representatives testify in support of the bill on two occasions.

“Conservation is important to the health of our environment and communities," Polis said. "Colorado’s renowned outdoor recreation and breathtaking natural beauty depend on the health of insects, pollinators, and other animals. Today, we are protecting and conserving the species that help make Colorado the beautiful state we all love."

A spokesperson for the Butterfly Pavilion said invertebrates comprise 97% of all animals on Earth, so it is important to have legislation that officially recognizes them in this capacity.

Before this bill, Colorado did not have any public funding or managing authority dedicated to conserving invertebrates, which include butterflies, beetles, bees, spiders and others. Many are pollinators.

"Butterfly Pavilion enthusiastically embraces this milestone and eagerly anticipates the profound impact it will have on invertebrate well-being," said Dr. Rich Reading, vice president of science and conservation at Butterfly Pavilion and vice chair of CPW. "This bill signifies a monumental stride in invertebrate conservation in Colorado, offering unprecedented opportunities to propel efforts to prioritize data collection to help protect and conserve these critical creatures which are the foundation of all life on Earth.”

The Butterfly Pavilion spokesperson explained the multiple ways this bill will benefit research, conservation and education surrounding invertebrates:

  1. Recognition and support: This bill signals a shift in public perception and will potentially increase support for invertebrate conservation efforts.
  2. Research opportunities: CPW now has the authority to fund programs dedicated to studying and conserving invertebrates.
  3. Collaborative partnerships: The bill empowers CPW to develop programs focused on invertebrate conservation. 
  4. Educational impact: As invertebrates gain recognition as an integral part of Colorado's wildlife, there will likely be increased interest in learning about these creatures. Butterfly Pavilion offers educational programs about invertebrates.
  5. Long-term conservation: This bill helps ensure the long-term survival of these species. Butterfly Pavilion contributes to this goal through research, conservation, breeding programs and public engagement activities.

CPW said the bill allows the department to conduct surveys of both native invertebrates and rare plants "to develop information about population, distribution, habitat needs, limiting factors, and other biological and ecological data to help identify conservation and management measures that protect these critical species. CPW is authorized to implement voluntary conservation measures to protect these species."

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“Because of this legislation and the efforts of our amazing staff, partners, and bill sponsors, CPW will now have the needed tools to manage wildlife in a more comprehensive manner, strengthening our efforts toward protecting biodiversity in Colorado,” said CPW Director Jeff Davis.

CPW Species Conservation Unit Supervisor David Klute explained that native rare plants are essential to both wildlife and humans.

“This legislation will help create programs designed to support conservation of native rare plants and invertebrates and can lessen the likelihood that the species will be added to federal threatened or endangered lists," Klute said.

CPW will hire permanent positions related to this work, including an invertebrate coordinator, two invertebrate conservation field staff, an aquatic invertebrate specialist, a rare plant coordinator, and a pollinator coordinator.

Beginning in January 2026, the Department of Natural Resources will report back to the General Assembly on CPW’s progress in this space at the annual SMART Act hearing.

These efforts will be funded by the Wildlife Cash Fund and excludes funds from hunting and fishing license sales. The bill increases state expenditures from this fund by about $1 million per year.

Colorado House Bill 24-1117_INVERTEBRATES & RARE PLANTS PARKS & WILDLIFE COMMISSION
This bill adds rare plants and invertebrates to the species that can be studied and conserved by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. It increases state expenditures on an ongoing basis. This is a screenshot from the bill's fiscal note.

The Center for Biological Diversity also applauded the decision on Friday.

"Gov. Polis’ move is an important step forward in conserving Colorado's rare and increasingly threatened native plants and invertebrates like Pagosa skyrockets and American bumblebees,” said Alli Henderson, southern Rockies director at the center. "Pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat, and their protection can’t come soon enough. We thank the governor and legislators who championed this bill, which will help keep Colorado's ecosystems colorful, healthy and wild.”

Gov. Polis signed several other bills into law on Friday, including one to regulate the AI industry. He signed multiple others Thursday that aim to improve the state's transportation system.