Colorado to Reintroduce Gray Wolves West of the Rockies, Sparking Worries Among Some Farmers

by Jennifer Shea

Last week, Colorado voters narrowly passed a measure that allows wildlife officials to reintroduce gray wolves to the western part of the state. 

Proposition 114 drew opposition from farmers, ranchers and hunters. They worry the wolves’ return will hurt rural economies that depend on livestock and hunting, the Colorado Sun reported.

Next Steps in Colorado

Conservationists argue the recent federal delisting of gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection highlights the need for extra measures. The Endangered Species Act listing outlawed killing the wolves in the lower 48 states without a special permit.

But federal officials say the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest regions has recovered enough to support the delisting.

Meanwhile, the ballot initiative laid out Colorado’s next steps. Those include statewide hearings and a system to compensate ranchers after wolves eat their livestock.

Coloradans Protecting Wildlife is a group of chambers of commerce, farmers and hunters who opposed the measure. They further said the plans to make it up to ranchers aren’t enough.

“The election results demonstrate that nearly half of Coloradans agree with us,” the group said in a statement. Moreover, “we hope these election results show proponents, lawmakers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife that next steps must be taken in a measured, responsible way.”

‘Ballot Box Biology’

Colorado is the first state in which voters, rather than the federal government, oversaw the reintroduction of gray wolves, NPR reported. So some have criticized the move as “ballot box biology.”

Proponents of the measure say all that matters is that they won. Support from the Front Range counties, densely populated urban areas that include Denver and Boulder, largely sealed their victory.

“We need to all get our heads around that fact and lean into the work ahead,” Rob Edward of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund told the Sun. “Which is fashioning a future for wolves in Colorado that we can coexist with. We need to go forward as neighbors and adversaries and friends and create a future for wolves.”

What that future looks like for farmers and ranchers remains to be seen.