Because of a narrowly-passed ballot initiative, the state of Colorado is on the cusp of translocating up to 50 gray wolves onto select public lands along the Centennial State’s Western Slope. The plan—which is being carried out by both the Colorado Department of Parks & Wildlife (CPW) and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)—has been a magnet for controversy, particularly within hunting and ranching communities. Now, a bi-partisan group of Colorado politicians is looking to pump the brakes on the impending wolf reintroduction—at least until the federal government can make some key determinations about the ways new wolf populations will be managed under the Endangered Species Act.
SB23-256 was introduced on March 27 by several state Senators and members of the Colorado House of Representatives. Most of the bill’s sponsors represent communities along the Western Slope, where state and federal wildlife officials are gearing up to release anywhere from 30 to 50 gray wolves captured from existing populations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, before the end of 2023.
According to a recent article in the Fort Collins-based Coloradoan, the bill is an attempt to ensure that farmers and ranchers can use lethal means to protect their livestock from depredating wolves. It would also allocate funds to compensate ranchers who lose valuable livestock to wolf predation.
Under current Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, Coloradans cannot kill wolves that are caught preying on livestock or otherwise harassing domestic animals. That could be changed with the imposition of an ESA amendment known as the 10(j)rule. SB23-256 would stave off the re-introduction of wolves onto the Western Slope until the U.S. Department of the Interior decides whether it will allow the 10(j) rule to go into effect.
If enlisted, the 10(j) rule would categorize Colorado’s new wolf populations as “experimental,” thereby exempting the animals from the all-encompassing type of protections that apply to ESA-protected wolf populations in other parts of the country. That would free up ranchers to use lethal force to deal with wolf depredation, without having to worry about stiff federal penalties.
Predictably, a coalition of wolf advocacy groups, led by the Wild Earth Guardians, has taken steps to oppose the bill, saying it would invite “frivolous lawsuits as further delay tactics.” Ranchers and hunters have spoken out in support, saying the so-called 10(j) waiver is desperately needed in order to protect not only livestock, but vulnerable big game herds like deer and elk.
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