Expect Colorado’s wildlife officials to begin releasing gray wolves back into forests along the Western Slope by the end of the year now that Gov. Jared Polis seems ready to clear any potential delays.
Polis suggested that he would veto Senate Bill 23-256 after noting that Colorado Department of Natural Resources officials, and other state representatives, opposed the measure and warned that it could delay the plan to begin releasing wolves by December.
“There shouldn’t be a lot of suspense on that one,” Polis told reporters Tuesday morning, noting that his office is still analyzing the measure, which legislators passed to his desk earlier this month.
Since voters narrowly – and controversially – approved the reintroduction effort outlined in the 2020 measure Proposition 114, state wildlife officials have been developing their plan to bring the predators back and expected to begin capturing and releasing them by December. But Senate Bill 23-256, proposed late in the legislative session, would hinge that reintroduction effort on a specific type of federal authorization that would allow state officials to manage (capture, relocate or even kill) wolves.
That federal process – formerly called the 10(j) rule – is underway but not yet finished. And late last month Dan Gibbs, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, warned that if the state measure passes, it could delay the federal process and therefore the reintroduction.
Western Slope lawmakers argued that any delay would likely be short-lived and a fair price to pay to ensure that state wildlife officials have the tools they need to handle the predators.
But during an address Tuesday, Polis said he wants to honor the will of voters who passed Proposition 114, which is widely believed to mean that the reintroduction process should begin in December.
When asked whether he’d veto the measure, Polis didn’t give a specific answer (nor did representatives respond to a request for comment) but he noted that state officials and legal experts warned of a possible delay, which he wants to avoid.
State Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta County, one of the measure’s sponsors, said a veto from Polis would be a “grave mistake.” Waiting until federal officials give the state authority to manage the wolves would mean the greatest chance of success for their reintroduction, he said.
A veto from the governor would effectively say “we will bring wolves into Colorado without giving farmers and ranchers and other landowners the means to protect their pet animals, their dog, their cat or their livestock,” Soper said.
Lindsay Larris, an attorney with the environmental nonprofit WildEarth Guardians, however, said that her organization wants Polis to veto the measure because they’re still concerned about the potential for delay.
Vetoes from Polis are uncommon but not unheard of. He vetoed four bills last year and at least three the year before.
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