Polis rejects wolf reintroduction bill focused on 10(j) rule as Rep. Lukens, Sen. Roberts blast decision
In his first veto for the 2023 legislative session, Gov. Jared Polis rejected a bill that was championed by local lawmakers and would have given the state more time to ensure wolf reintroduction happens with certain management controls in place.
“I am deeply disappointed to see that SB23-256 — a bipartisan bill that sought to provide essential protections for Colorado’s livestock owners — was vetoed today,” said Sen. Dylan Roberts, who helped author the bill, in a statement. “It is discouraging to see a bill that passed the legislature with such large bipartisan margins — 29-6 in the Senate and 44-21 in the House — not become law.”
State Rep. Meghan Lukens, also one of the bill’s sponsors, is now calling on federal lawmakers and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to step in to make sure that Colorado is granted a 10(j) rule prior to wolf reintroduction, which is scheduled to happen on the Western Slope before the end of this year.
Work between state and federal officials on a 10(j) rule has been ongoing since voters directed the state to bring gray wolves back to Colorado west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023.
With a 10(j) rule in place, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service would classify Colorado’s incoming wolves as an “experimental population,” giving state officials more flexibility to manage the wolves than is typically afforded to species on the federal endangered list.
If approved, the 10(j) rule would allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife to permit ranchers and property owners to utilize lethal take as a method of last resort should wolves put their livestock or working animals in immediate danger. CPW has already requested a 10(j) rule from the federal government with hopes of getting it approved by December.
In a letter explaining his veto, Polis expressed support for getting a 10(j) rule for wolves in Colorado, but he still rejected the bill, saying that it would prevent Colorado Parks and Wildlife from releasing gray wolves until after the effective date of a federal final rule that deems the gray wolf population a non-essential experimental population.
“I am supportive of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission and the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources continuing to work towards our preferred approach of reintroducing gray wolves under a 10j rule,” Polis wrote in the letter. “SB23-256, however, is unnecessary and undermines the voters’ intent and the hard work of the Parks and Wildlife Commission, the expertise of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff, the extensive stakeholding undertaken by the Technical Working Group and the Stakeholder Advisory Group, and the ongoing collaborative work with our federal partners, and could actually interfere with successfully receiving experimental population designation, which is the purported purpose of the bill.”
However, Lukens disagrees, saying over the phone Tuesday that she and her colleagues have done extensive work with many different stakeholders on this bill and they “believe that the policy is sound.”
“I am extremely disappointed that the governor has vetoed SB23-256,” Lukens said in a statement. “I have heard from ranchers and farmers consistently that it is absolutely imperative we have the 10(j) rule in place prior to state-orchestrated wolf reintroduction, and this bill was a direct request from Western Slope constituents who will be impacted most by wolf reintroduction.”
According to Lukens, getting a 10(j) rule in place prior to reintroduction is essential because it would give the state co-management authority of the reintroduced population, allowing state officials to protect agricultural producers across Colorado.
“As a member of the Agriculture, Natural Resources & Water Committee, I will continue to support our agricultural communities, which are central to our culture, community, and economy on the Western Slope,” Lukens promised as she called on CPW and federal lawmakers to intervene to ensure Colorado is granted the 10(j) rule prior to wolf reintroduction.
Roberts added that SB23-256 was not a delay tactic nor an attempt to derail the public’s wishes, but instead a safeguard to ensure Colorado introduces wolves responsibly.
“As a legislator, I have rarely witnessed as broad grassroots support from a variety of communities and groups as we did with SB23-256,” Roberts said. “The constituents that I, my co-sponsors, and the governor represent deserve leadership that hears and responds to their legitimate concerns. That is why this bill had the co-sponsorship of every legislator from Western Colorado, where the wolves will soon be introduced.”
Eli Pace is the editor of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-871-4221.
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