A high country lawmaker with deep ties to ranching and Colorado's wild is looking to bridge the divide over bringing back the predator to the state.
Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail, introduced Senate Bill 121 Friday to postpone what polls suggest could be a politically inevitable return of gray wolves to the state.
Initiative 107 will be on the ballot in November, and if it passes the state will begin re-introducing the wolves — hunted out of normality decades ago — and taxpayers will cover the livestock losses.
Donovan's bill would postpone reintroduction until Dec. 31, 2025, and make the program contingent on a source of revenue to pay for livestock losses.
There's more: reintroduction would be canceled if the gray wolf is found to have a self-sustaining population in Colorado by then. They've been sighted in northern Colorado the last few months.
Donovan's bill also specifies that it places no restrictions on private landowners' existing use of land, water or other resources. The state would finance programs to educate livestock owners on avoiding wolves and mitigating their losses.
"I’m hopeful that this bill will result in a compromise that addresses the concerns of the ag community, how compensation for wolf predation will be handled if wolves get here on their own or are introduced, and will map a pathway of having wolves back in Colorado," Donovan said Friday evening.
Donovan is a rancher whose family has worked on public lands issues in and around the Vail Valley for decades. She is the legislative leader who created Colorado Public Lands Day in 2016.
Shawn Martini, the vice president of advocacy for the Colorado Farm Bureau said the organization is evaluating the bill, but the advocacy organization for farmers and ranchers are skeptical of any place for forced reintroduction “either by ballot initiative or the legislative process."
The bill doesn't subvert the vote in November, he pointed out.
"Our members remain committed to preventing such a radical change to wildlife management and will do everything we can to defeat the initiative at the ballot box," Martini said. “Our team just spent time in northwest Colorado where a wolf pack was recently identified by wildlife officials. Unsurprisingly no one we spoke with thought passage of the initiative was a good idea. We think voters will agree in November.”
A survey by Colorado State University released this week indicated 84% public support for reintroduction.
Wolf advocates are listening to Donovan's idea, but remain skeptical.
Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said the organization is "encouraged" by Donovan’s bill, but the defenders are not totally on board, as it stands.
"The bill would prohibit reintroduction unless new funding is made available, meaning this critical effort could be held hostage," Proctor said. "We look forward to working with Sen. Donovan to address these concerns.”
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, called Donovan's legislation "a first step toward correcting the ecological imbalance left in the wake of wolf eradication early last century."
President Rob Edward said the organization welcomed Donovan's effort to find a mutually beneficial solution between the wolves, ranchers and farmers.
"However, we can not support the draft bill as introduced,” he said in a statement. “We are eager to work with Sen. Donovan and her colleagues to identify a collaborative way forward — one that guarantees a future with wolves in Colorado, restores the ecological balance, and is in line with the intent of more than 80% of Colorado voters.”