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CPW has already earned a black eye on wolf reintroduction

Early this year, an internal whistleblower reported Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Northwest Regional Manager, JT Romatzke, for alleged actions that were at best unethical and at worst illegal. The controversy – with a genesis in the new state law outlining wolf reintroduction – has had wide coverage in the Denver Post, the Grand Junction Sentinel and other media outlets in the West.

Bob Kuhnert

CPW’s four regional managers are at the top of the agency’s organizational chart as part of the agency’s 11-member leadership team and are responsible for the day-to-day management of the agency. Romatzke’s alleged violations include asking state employees – on state time and using state resources – to put together unflattering video clips of two sitting CPW commissioners (Taishya Adams and Jay Tuchton).

Adams is the first Black woman appointed to the CPW Commission, and Tuchton is an attorney who has represented environmental groups. Commissioners are appointed by the governor and they set policy for CPW.

Apparently Romatzke didn’t agree with the views these commissioners hold on wildlife management in general, and more specifically their stances on wolf restoration. His presumed intent was to undercut their effectiveness and to prevent state senate confirmation of Tuchton (Adams had already been confirmed). Romatzke was also accused of colluding with anti-wolf organizations, providing them with information that was still being discussed internally, with the intent of complicating the development of the wolf restoration plan that the voters directed CPW to complete.

Romatzke reportedly has made multiple anti-wolf and anti-predator statements both before and after the wolf restoration ballot initiative (known as Proposition 114) was first being discussed. The proposition was passed by voters, creating state law that requires CPW to reintroduce wolves to the state by the end of 2023.

The Department of Natural Resources investigated the allegations and concluded that Romatzke committed actions deemed “inappropriate.” (See link at the end of this column.) After three months of paid leave while the investigation was underway, Romatzke was returned to his position and is once again part of the agency’s leadership team. The whistleblower was given the option of going back to work under Romatzke or resigning. He resigned.

It’s important to note that the region that Romatzke supervises includes both locations where groups of wolves were known to be in the state. One is the very northwest corner of Colorado. A group of as many as six wolves was confirmed in that area in 2020; those wolves are now gone. The other group of wolves is a pair in North Park, near the town of Walden. That pair currently has a litter of six pups, the first litter known to be born in Colorado since the 1940s. While it’s possible that wolves could come to Colorado from the small populations in Arizona and New Mexico, all of the wolves that have been confirmed in Colorado in the last 30 years have come from populations to the north, mostly from the Yellowstone National Park region. All of those wolves appear to have entered Colorado in CPW’s Northwest Region, the very area that Romatzke oversees.

CPW has long been recognized as a topnotch state wildlife agency, demonstrating integrity, honesty and professionalism. This stellar reputation has been severely tarnished by Romatzke’s actions, which confirmed the worst fears of wolf advocates and agency critics. In a state with declining hunter numbers and increasing interest in non-consumptive wildlife appreciation, Romatzke epitomizes the “hook and bullet” mentality that holds that the only good predator is a dead predator and sees no value in wildlife species that you can’t take with gun or rod.

It’s not at all clear why Romatzke was not fired or reassigned. Regardless of the details of what he did and didn’t do, CPW is left with an ugly black eye due to this incident and how it has been handled. Romatzke continues to oversee some of Colorado’s most important habitat for wolf restoration.

What a farce. We Coloradans deserve and expect better than this from our state agencies and demand a more forthright explanation from CPW or Gov. Jared Polis’ office.

Bob Kuhnert is a retired internal auditor for the state of Arizona Department of Transportation and a wolf restoration supporter. A resident of Durango, he has lived in western Colorado and Arizona since the 1970s.

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