gray wolf

Colorado voters in November elected to create a legislative pathway to reintroduce the gray wolf into the state.

Republican State Sen. Bob Rankin plans to put forth a bill in the Colorado General Assembly that would introduce an equal number of gray wolves into Boulder and Jefferson Counties as Proposition 114 will in Moffat County. 

“I do intend to do that,” Rankin — who won formal election to the state Senate last week — said following his victory. “I’m going to have to admit: it’s more just a protest, more than anything else, to call attention to the fact that the people most affected voted against [Proposition 114].”

Of the state’s 64 counties, just 13 supported the reintroduction of gray wolves on designated lands west of the Continental Divide. 

Pitkin County was one of them.

According to the Colorado Secretary of State’s website, over 61% of Pitkin County voters supported Proposition 114; however, Pitkin County’s “yes” votes still only accounted for roughly 7,000 of the more-than 1.5 million favorable votes the successful proposition went on to receive. 

With over 3 million votes cast, Proposition 114 ultimately passed by a margin of 38,899 votes.

In Boulder County, Proposition 114 received nearly 125,000 votes and in Jefferson County, more than 184,000 votes. Additionally, Denver County favored the reintroduction of gray wolves nearly two-to-one, with over 66% of its voters supporting the ballot measure and the remaining approximately 33% opposing it. 

“They think wolves are cute,” Rankin said. “They don’t understand they eat sheep and grab small children.”    

On Oct. 29, just days before the election, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the delisting of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act. According to a news release from the Department of the Interior, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states has surpassed 6,000 wolves, “greatly exceeding the combined recovery goals for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lake populations.”

 Subsequently, beginning Jan. 4, management of the gray wolf population in Colorado will transfer from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Rankin, who also serves on the state’s Joint Budget Committee, estimated that the reintroduction of gray wolves could end up costing taxpayers more than $10 million annually, at least for the first few years.

“I’ll be saying that we should spend that money on teacher salaries and health care instead of managing a wolf population,” Rankin said.  

Senate District 8 — which Rankin represents — includes Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit Counties. Although Summit County voters supported the reintroduction of gray wolves, the district’s six other counties, by an overwhelming majority, did not. 

In Moffat County, over 83% of voters said “no” to Proposition 114, and in Rio Blanco, more than 87% also voted against the reintroduction of gray wolves.

“We all want to protect wildlife,” Rankin said. “But … in the opinion of the people most affected, this is not the way to do that.” 

Now that Proposition 114 has passed, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission must develop a plan to manage the gray wolf population and begin their reintroduction by Dec. 31, 2023.

According to Travis Duncan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer, the commission will meet later this month to briefly discuss the rollout of the voter-approved proposition. 

“There are pros and cons on both sides. We’ve been directed by the voters to work on this reintroduction, and so we are going to begin looking at places that might be suitable in Colorado,” Duncan said. “Those kinds of issues are what we are going to be talking about over the next couple of years with biologists, with stakeholders to figure out what the best plan is.”

matthew@aspendailynews.com 

Matthew Bennett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at: matthew@aspendailynews.com