Whatever happens with the wolf reintroduction effort, we think state Sen. Kerry Donovan did a sensible thing in putting the possibility of a legislative compromise on the table before the state’s voters decide the issue this fall.

Wolves pose a series of complicated questions that we think deserve more consideration than what a “yes or no” ballot initiative can deliver. It hardly seems fair that urban dwellers in the Interstate 25 corridor get a say in whether wolves are good for western Colorado, which is where they would be released if the ballot initiative passes.

Polling indicates a lot of Coloradans want to see wolves in the state’s wild lands. By introducing a bill, Donovan has created space for debate on a complex scientific question more suited for legislative deliberation than the whims of voters.

Neither organizers behind the ballot initiative nor opponents support the aim of Donovan’s bill — a sure indicator that middle ground lies fallow.

Wolf supporters don’t like that Donovan’s bill delays wolf management to allow stakeholders to devise a system that identifies a funding source for compensating ranchers for livestock losses.

Opponents don’t like that it allows for wolf management even if voters defeat the reintroduction measure. But wolves are already here. Donovan introduced the bill the same week Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials confirmed the presence of a pack of gray wolves in Moffat County.

Donovan’s bill acknowledges that factors surrounding wolf reintroduction are in flux. The bill would cancel a plan to reintroduce wolves if a “self-sustaining population” emerges before reintroduction begins, as per the bill, on the last day of 2025.

The ballot initiative calls for reintroducing about 10 wolves a year on the Western Slope beginning in 2023 — plenty of time to allow for compensation funds and criteria to be developed, supporters say.

We take exception to that position. Voters should have a clear expectation of how and if taxpayers funds will be used to compensate ranchers and what those losses might look like. If Donovan’s bill does nothing else, it gives cattle and sheep ranchers a voice in how to accommodate wolves — not just oppose them at every turn.

Donovan’s bill seems to cover all the bases. If one pack of wolves has migrated here, we need to manage them. If there aren’t enough to bring the ecological balance that supporters predict, more will come, via reintroduction — but only after policymakers have nailed down all the details and contingencies.

We’re in favor of any action that slows down wolf reintroduction. We’re not even sure how an open-minded voter could come to any reasonable conclusions about whether wolves are good for Colorado. The binary nature of the ballot question seems to encourage propaganda from both sides.

Debate on a bill allows for those questions to be posed and answered by experts, which none of us are.

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