Eric Washburn

Eric Washburn

Recently, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Commission held its January meeting, during which the Commission adopted a three-year plan to write and approve a wolf restoration plan. The plan calls for finalizing a wolf restoration plan in December 2023, which is the voter-approved deadline for restoring wolves to Colorado.

At the same meeting, Gov. Polis challenged the Commission to move faster and seek to reintroduce wolves in 2022. This suggestion was met with howls of protests from the anti-wolf forces in the state who hold out hope that with enough delay and lawsuits they can ultimately scuttle the reintroductions, thereby overturning the results of our free and fair election. Sound familiar?

What Gov. Polis understood is that finalizing the wolf restoration plan in December of 2023 would mean restoring wolves to Colorado in 2024 at the earliest, a clear violation of the letter and spirit of the ballot measure. Moreover, there are elements of the wolf restoration planning process that make no sense at all and pointlessly extend the process. For example, the plan calls for four months of public input between February and May 2021, prior to the development of a draft plan on which the public can comment. This time inevitably will be used by wolf opponents to relitigate the election, and we can expect the Colorado public to be regaled by the same debunked theories we heard during the campaign — like former DNR Director Walcher telling us that wolves will give us all COVID-19, the wildlife management equivalent of QAnon.

In the end, the CPW Commission both 1) adopted the proposed schedule calling for the agency to take the next three years to develop the plan, finalizing it in December 2023, and at the same time 2) clarified that CPW plans to reintroduce wolves by the ballot deadline of December 2023. Doing so will require Star Trek-like warp speed compression of time and space, but at least it signals an intent to meet the legal deadline.

Never discussed by the CPW Commission was the high likelihood that one or more anti-wolf groups will in fact file lawsuits over CPW’s plan in an effort to try to stop or indefinitely delay wolf reintroduction. Understanding this problem, Gov. Polis addressed the CPW commissioners to ask that they expedite the schedule to restore wolves to Colorado in 2022, noting that unforeseen problems can always arise to delay the process past the legal deadline. The governor knows that scheduling wolf reintroductions in 2022 leaves time for courts to hear and ultimately reject these lawsuits — as the courts did in 1995 when the Farm Bureau sued the Interior Department to prevent wolves from being reintroduced into Yellowstone — and still meet then legal deadline of December 2023.

It's time for the hysteria over wolves to end. Wolf restoration is not complicated rocket science that takes a long time to get right. It has been done successfully in the Northern Rockies and CPW can base much of its plan on that excellent work. Consequently, CPW should be empowered to immediately begin drafting the plan to inform a useful public discussion rather than spending four months empowering the anti-wolf forces to relitigate the election.

Developing a draft plan with different options as a prelude to seeking public input could give the public useful information on which to base their input and put us on course to have wolves restored to Colorado by the legal deadline, even accounting for anticipated lawsuits. The sooner we can get wolves in Colorado, the sooner we can start to restore our mountain ecosystems and reduce the prevalence of chronic wasting disease in our elk and deer herds.

Eric Washburn in a fifth-generation Coloradan and big game hunter who lives in Steamboat Springs.

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