Published on Aspen Daily News Online (http://www.aspendailynews.com)
By Collin Szewczyk, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission supported a resolution Wednesday in Denver that “opposes the intentional release of any wolves into Colorado,” capping a discussion that arose after Gov. John Hickenlooper came out against the introduction of the Mexican grey wolf into the Four Corners region.
The CPW commission had three options before it: One that opposed any introduction of the Mexican grey wolf into the state; the second, which was adopted, that opposed both Mexican wolves as well as intentional release of grey wolves; and taking no action. Alternative two was selected on a 7-4 vote.
Matt Robbins, CPW spokesman, said Friday that the debate wasn’t over whether wolves should be introduced in the state or not, but rather selecting language supporting the Colorado Wolf Management Working Group’s findings from 2004.
Since wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act, management is handled on the federal level. CPW doesn’t have the authority to reintroduce wolves in Colorado, Robbins clarified.
“The four that voted not in favor [of the second alternative] are not necessarily stating that they are [in favor of wolf introduction],” he said. “This was a vote over whether to soften the language or hold off. … They have no authority to approve a reintroduction. They couldn’t have that discussion.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisting wolves in Colorado would be the only way management of the animals could fall under CPW’s purview. Even then, a reintroduction plan would have to be passed in the state Legislature.
Robbins said that 10 groups, split evenly between pro-wolf reintroduction and those in opposition, spoke before the commission prior to the vote.
Discussions about wolf reintroduction took place in both Carbondale and Aspen last week, and led to a spirited debate between conservationists and ranchers over the keystone predator’s future on the West Slope. The pro-wolf side said the animals are needed to make the ecosystem whole again and move gorging elk herds about the landscape, while the ranchers opined that wolves would decimate livestock and be a threat to their way of life.
The wildlife commission is appointed by the governor, and features members from myriad backgrounds. Robbins said that candidates must represent different parts of the community and political affiliations, and come from both sides of the Eisenhower Tunnel.
Currently, there are four commissioners with farming and ranching backgrounds; an attorney who has interests in ranching and represents the petroleum industry; two from an outdoors outfitter perspective; one specializing in communications; two are conservationists; and one, Bill Kane, is a former Basalt town manager and spent much of his career as a planner.
A CPW presentation during the discussion noted that the goal was to support the wolf working group recommendations, and “does not pass value judgment on wolves, allows for natural recolonization, and provides future management of wolves by CPW at minimal additional cost.”
It warned that conflicts with livestock and big game could be costly, and that funding a wolf-recovery effort would force CPW “to reduce or eliminate current programs benefiting other wildlife.”
The working group’s report recommended that if wolves return and are delisted, animals migrating back into Colorado should be allowed to live “with no boundaries” and be managed to avoid conflicts, and any problems that arise be resolved by both non-lethal and lethal methods.
“This [resolution] covered the intentional release of wolves in Colorado,” Robbins said. “If a wolf comes into the state on its own, like they have and we know they do, then they are welcome and protected.”