Gov. Jared Polis has been clear about his position on the reintroduction of wolves.

He's in favor of the plan from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.

He's in favor of the anticipated ruling from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on what's known as a 10(j) rule that will allow that CPW plan to go into effect.

The governor is in favor of seeing wolves on the ground by the close of 2023.

What he doesn't like is Senate Bill 256, which requires the state to have that 10(j) ruling in place before wolves can be reintroduced. 

Polis alluded to vetoing the measure when asked by reporters about it in a news conference shortly after the legislative session ended.

"There shouldn't be a lot of suspense on that one," Polis said.

He pointed out the Department of Natural Resources testified against it, testimony that came from DNR Executive Director Dan Gibbs.

The state wants to honor the will of the voters, Polis added.

"It's certainty very clear where our agencies were," he said. "I don't think people will be surprised." 

He also said legal experts informed the state the legislation would delay the reintroduction, and they want to avoid that delay.

The bill comes after voters, mostly in urban areas, in 2020 approved Proposition 114. The measure would attempt to reestablish the species in Colorado, with wolves placed in central mountain communities. It passed by a narrow margin of 50.91% to 49.09%, with four of the five counties where wolves will be reintroduced voting against the measure. 

Wolf reintroduction locations

Wolf reintroduction locations, courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Wolves are currently classified as an endangered species in Colorado, meaning that if a rancher came upon wolves killing livestock, as has happened several times in Jackson County, the rancher could not kill the wolf. 

Once voters approved Proposition 114, Colorado Parks and Wildlife went to work to come up with a plan on how to manage the wolf population, which is expected to start at a dozen breeding pairs and grow from there.

That plan won formal approval from the CPW commission just last week. 

The plan is based on the state obtaining the (10j) rule, which the federal Fish and Wildlife Services has been working on and expects to issue by mid-December.

The 10(j) federal rule would allow wolves to be classified as a nonessential, experimental population, with CPW taking the lead role on managing the population. Under the CPW plan, and with wolves listed under 10(j) as a nonessential, experimental population, ranchers could kill wolves attacking their livestock and be compensated for loss of livestock.

Senate Bill 256 started out with requirements that all legal challenges to reintroduction be completed before reintroduction could take place.

But that provision was removed by the Senate after the governor's office made it clear it opposed the language around litigation. Backers of reintroduction said those challenges could take years and would fly in the face of voter intent.

That wasn't good enough for the Polis administration. When the bill surfaced in the House, Democrats, who side with the governor, tried to render it essentially ineffective. 

Those efforts failed. The bill won final approval from the House on May 3 and the following day, the Senate signed off on House amendments backed by the bill's sponsors. It's now headed to the governor.

Vetoing SB 256 will not affect the reintroduction, but without the measure —  should US Fish & Wildlife not issue the 10(j) ruling — wolves could be reintroduced but only under endangered species status, and with the federal government taking the lead on managing the population.

Backers of SB 256 have said the federal agency does not have the resources or personnel to do that work effectively.

One problem yet to be resolved: Where the wolves will come from.

According to 9News, Colorado has not reached an agreement with anyone who will allow their wolves to go to Colorado. The governor of Wyoming is a firm "no," and officials in Idaho and Montana, where wolf reintroduction has taken place in past years, say they haven't been asked, despite claims in the CPW plan that Colorado has been having discussions with those states. 

The governor has until June 7 to sign, veto or allow bills to become law without his signature.


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