Southwest Colorado residents will have a chance to comment on the state’s gray wolf reintroduction and management plan in a public forum Monday at Fort Lewis College.
The in-person listening session is put on by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Keystone Policy Center, a Colorado-based public engagement nonprofit. It is an opportunity for people to share their suggestions and concerns about the wolf reintroduction process, which has been a source of contention in the state.
The “robust” public and expert involvement will inform decisions by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials about the reintroduction plan, said Julie Shapiro, director of the Natural Resources Program for Keystone Policy Center, in a news release.
“We strongly encourage all Coloradans to offer their contribution to the restoration and management planning process,” she said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Keystone will conduct a total of 14 in-person, public listening sessions throughout the state as part of a broad outreach process.
All open houses will follow the same format and cover the same content, the news release said.
Attendees will visit stations at their own pace to provide input about wolf planning topics. They will also be able to provide written feedback through a paper or online comment form during or after the open house.
The session in Durango will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday in the Student Union Ballroom at 1000 Rim Drive.
Coloradans can also provide comments and find more information about input opportunities on a newly launched website, wolfengagementco.org. A comment form on the website asks the same questions and provides the same background information as the in-person open houses, the release said.
“The primary purpose of these open houses and the public engagement website is to provide Coloradans with multiple opportunities to share their suggestions and concerns with the division,” Shapiro said. “This process will inform the wolf restoration and management planning process.”
Colorado is part of the gray wolf’s native range, but wolves were eradicated from the state by the 1940s, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already restored gray wolves into Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona.
Colorado voters decided to reintroduce gray wolves in the state in 2020 when they narrowly passed Proposition 114. The vote was 50.91% in favor, 49.09% against.
The proposition directed the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to introduce gray wolves on the Western Slope of Colorado by the end of 2023. It was placed on the ballot after a citizen group gathered more than 200,000 signatures of support.
Urban voters on the Front Range primarily pushed the measure to passage, according to news reports.
Supporters of the ballot measure said wolves would cull overpopulated elk and deer populations and connect the animal’s native range. The reintroduction would represent a shift in wildlife management practices, away from prioritizing hunting and agricultural interests and toward restoring ecosystems by restoring an apex predator, according to news reports.
Opponents said the wolves would kill livestock and cause economic harm for ranchers, and the average voter should not decide such a serious ecological issue. They said Colorado does not have space for wolves, and the apex predators would cut down elk and deer herds thus hindering the state’s big game hunting tourism industry, according to news reports.
The law requires compensating livestock ranchers for any losses caused by wolves.
The vote came days after the Department of the Interior published a rule removing the gray wolf from federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. The rule, which returned management control to states and tribes, went into effect Jan. 4.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife open house sessions are part of more than 40 meetings being conducted in July and August to gather public input.
In addition to the open houses, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Keystone will hold dozens of invitational geographic-based focus groups in Western Colorado, interest-based focus groups and tribal consultation meetings.
For those interested in attending the open house sessions, pre-registration is available at wolfengagementco.org. Registration is encouraged but not required, the news release said.