When Greg Walcher was executive director of state Department of Natural Resources, he believed that reintroduction of lost species provided to the landscape of Colorado. He worked on bringing back endangered fish, lynx, moose, bighorn sheep and even prairie chickens, he said Wednesday.
But wolves? Walcher isn't running with that pack.
"[W]olves are different, because they simply cannot peacefully coexist in a state with almost 6 million people," Walcher said in a statement as he formally joined the coalition fighting Initiative 107, the proposed ballot measure to bring back sustainable populations of the canine predators that were killed off by the 1940s.
"They would decimate other important wildlife, and their impact on rural areas could be devastating. Their forced introduction, against the advice of Colorado’s own wildlife experts, is a terrible idea."
The gray wolf is listed on the federal Endangered Species Act, though in March the federal Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the gray wolf from the federal protection list and return management to the states. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2016 formally opposed returning wolf populations to the state.
Backers of reintroducing wolves are circulating petitions to place Initiative 107 on the state's 2020 ballot. They have until Dec. 13 to gather 124,632 voter signatures.
If it makes the ballot, the measure would ask voters for permission -- and ultimately money -- to restore gray wolves on designated lands west of the Continental Divide while prohibiting the state from "imposing any land, water, or resource use restrictions on private landowners to further the plan." The state would have to compensate owners for losses of livestock caused by gray wolves.
If Initiative 107 passes, legislative analysts say the state would spend $344,363 next year and $467,387 the year after, eventually employing three people.
Walcher was the DNR leader for former Republican Gov. Bill Owens. An writer and public speaker on conservation issues, Walcher is a Western Slope native and the former president of Club 20, the Western Slope civic and government coalition, as well as working on conservation issues in Washington, D.C.
He is the president of the consulting firm Natural Resources Group, which specializes in energy, water, public lands, forestry, wildlife and other issues. He also is an associate in the Washington, D.C, environmental-permitting firm Dawson and Associates, and sits on Policy Advisory Board of the Heartland Institute. He is a fellow at the conservative Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood.
When Walcher left the Owens administration to run in vain for Congress on the Western Slope in 2004, he was pilloried in the Aspen Times.
"Walcher is a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue, dig it/blast it/drill it conservative who has presided over some of the most appalling environmental damage that this state has seen since the early mining days, and as such, the voters of the massive 3rd Congressional District should say 'No thanks, Greg,'” Aspen Times columnist Gary Hubbell wrote in 2004.
Walcher was the GOP nominee in the 3rd Congressional District that year, but he lost in the general election to Democrat John Salazar of the San Luis Valley.
“The addition of Greg Walcher to our team of experts is a huge win for people and wildlife that will be harmed if we allow the forced introduction of wolves," Denny Behrens, co-chair of the Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition, said in a statement. "If Colorado listens to real experts like Mr. Walcher, and not the extremist special interests who are backing Initiative 107, we can protect our professionally managed ecosystem for all the enjoy.”
The proposed measure also is opposed by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.