Opinion: Proposition 114 is a ‘reckless initiative’

Proposition 114 is an effort to introduce wolves into Colorado. This reckless initiative goes against the recommendations of wildlife experts, ignores the reality that wolves are already here and would cost millions of taxpayer dollars at a time when the state can least afford it. Vote “no” on Proposition 114.

The experts oppose wolf introduction.

At the state level, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is the agency in charge of managing our state’s cherished wildlife. Federally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages wildlife including protecting endangered species like the wolf. Both agencies are comprised of biologists, ecologists and other experts who have dedicated their careers to the study and care of animals and their natural habitats.

Both agencies have studied wolves extensively and have rejected wolf introduction in Colorado. In fact, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has spent over $1 million studying wolves and has voted against introduction four times: in 1982, 1989, 2005 and 2016, under Democratic and Republican governors alike.

We should listen to the experts and vote “no” on wolf introduction. This is not a political question. It is a matter of trusting the experts.

Wolves are already here.

Every year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives more than 100 wolf sighting reports. Earlier this year, the agency confirmed a whole pack of wolves including newborn pups living in Northwest Colorado. They also confirmed the continued presence of a wolf living in North Park, just an hour away from Steamboat Springs. Multiple other wolves have been confirmed living in Colorado over the last several years.

Wolves have been naturally migrating into Colorado from surrounding states like Wyoming for years. Fortunately for those wolves, there is a plan in place to protect them in Colorado.

In 2005, Colorado Parks and Wildlife adopted the recommendations of a Wolf Management Working Group that allows for the natural migration of wolves into Colorado and their protection once they arrive. Several of the proponents of this ballot measure were part of that group, but because they did not get their way (i.e. wolf introduction) through a collaborative stakeholder process, they are trying to circumvent the established norms of wildlife management and appeal to voters instead.

There is a plan in place to allow wolves to migrate here naturally, and it is working. If wolves already live here, why do we need to introduce new wolves?

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We should not be prioritizing wolves over schools, roads and other wildlife.

Lawmakers just cut the state budget by $3.3 billion — roughly 25% — and additional cuts are anticipated in the coming years. Funding for education and transportation were especially hard hit. The state now owes more than $1.2 billion to K-12 education that it already cannot afford to pay.

Meanwhile, local governments across the state are also having to slash budgets. For example, total revenue for Routt County in 2020 is expected to drop by more than $10 million — roughly 16%— compared to 2019. Similarly, Steamboat Springs City Council anticipates a budget shortfall between $3.5 million and $4.5 million — between 8.5% and 11% of the city’s general fund. These fiscal realities have real consequences for residents locally and across Colorado.

Unfortunately Colorado’s wildlife is not faring much better. All species are suffering right now because of warm temperatures, severe drought and record-breaking wildfires. Even before this summer, deer and elk herds in many parts of the state were below population objectives. Wolves prey on deer, elk and moose and will add stress to wildlife that is already struggling.

Proponents say that wolves will “restore the ecological balance” and bring all sorts of benefits. Those are false promises, and the proponents know it. Colorado is not Yellowstone. Our state is far more developed, with a higher human population and more fragmented natural habitats, than other states with wolves.

In fact, when talking about the benefits of wolves, the proponents recently admitted, “We won’t probably see the same thing exactly in Colorado.” You don’t have to like it, but the reality is that we cannot turn the clock back 80 years to when wolves used to roam Colorado. We are not the same state today as we were in 1940.

Legislators just cut $3.3 billion from the state budget. Local governments have lost tens of millions of dollars. Deer, elk and moose are already stressed. Should we really be prioritizing wolves over schools, classrooms, roads and other wildlife?

Vote “no” on Proposition 114. It goes against expert advice, it is unnecessary,and we cannot afford it.

Michael Hogue is a fourth-generation Routt County rancher.

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