Compensation, lethal take and license plates: Western Slope legislators introduce bills related to impending wolf reintroduction

Kit Geary
Steamboat Pilot & Today

With wolf reintroduction on the horizon, Western Slope legislators introduced three bills on Tuesday, March 28, to support the ranching and agricultural communities through this change.

According to Colorado Sen. Dylan Roberts, Colorado Parks and Wildlife remains on track to reintroduce the first round of wolves by Dec. 31.

One bill regarding purchasable license plates supporting ranchers will start in the state House, while the other two bills regarding compensation and lethal take will start in the Senate. According to Colorado Rep. Meghan Lukens, legislators from the Western Slope are all either prime or co-sponsors for the three bills.

The two bills in the Senate largely involve accounting for oversights that may have existed when voters passed Proposition 114 in 2020 to reintroduce gray wolves.

One bill concerns compensation and expands upon the parameters outlined in Proposition 114. Ballot language said owners would be compensated for their losses if the reintroduced wolves kill their livestock. 

Sponsored by Sen. Roberts, House Speaker Julie McCluskie, Sen. Perry Will and Rep. Marc Catlin, the bill would create a compensation fund within the Department of Natural Resources to pay livestock owners for their losses

“An implementation plan is already laying out the parameters for how much people can get reimbursed,” Roberts said. “By creating this in statute, we are dedicating funds that will always be available for compensation, regardless of what happens with the state budget or DNR programming.”

Cass Galloway, owner of Big Hat Ranch, greets her alpacas in February in McCoy. Galloway says wolf reintroduction would not be beneficial to her business.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Roberts said the bill would allocate $175,000 for the first six months of reintroductions and $350,000 a year after that, with the money coming from the general fund.

Another bill concerns the state securing a 10(j) waiver, deeming the wolves as an experimental population under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, and it is sponsored by Roberts, Will and Rep. Matt Soper. 

A 10J Rule would allow the state to manage wolves in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife service as an “experimental population” with more flexibility than typically afforded to listed species.

This permits ranchers and property owners to utilize lethal action, only as a method of last resort, in the event livestock or working animals are in immediate danger.

This bill seeks to address the fact that when voters first passed Proposition 114, gray wolves had been delisted as an endangered species. Two years after the passing of the bill in 2022 the wolves were put back on the endangered species list. Federally, killing an endangered species warrants a felony charge.

“We at the legislature believe that when voters passed Proposition 114, they didn’t know gray wolves would be listed as endangered,” Roberts said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is in the process of applying for a 10(j) waiver from U.S. Fish and Wildlife. This is intended to give ranchers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife the same management and mitigation tools that they thought they were going to have before the species was listed as endangered, including lethal take.

According to Roberts, CPW is on track to receive a 10(j) waiver in December, but legal challenges could push this process back.

Sens. Roberts and Will expressed that legislators, ranchers and community members are very nervous about that timeline with the reintroduction of wolves scheduled for Dec. 31.

In addition to this, the bill also states the National Environmental Policy Act process that would assess the environmental impact of the reintroduction also needs to happen beforehand. The legislators anticipate this will also be done Dec. 15.

“If wolves hit the ground before we have 10(j), it’s a moot point, it doesn’t matter at that point,” Sen. Will said. “It’s critical we get this.”

The third bill would create a “born to be wild” special license plate.

“The funds that are raised from the creation of the license plates are to be used for nonlethal means for mitigating conflict with gray wolves,” Rep. Lukens explained. “Should a ranch be navigating a wolf pack, then they will be able to access this money that is meant for nonlethal measures to deter wolves from harassing the ranch.”

Lukens expressed that the purpose of the license plate is to support our ranching communities through navigating wolves.

The license plate would cost $100, and $25 would to go to a highway users’ tax fund while $50 dollars is credited to wildlife cash fund for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and $25 dollars is credited to the Colorado Driver License, Record, Identification and Vehicle Enterprise Solution (DRIVES) service account.

Sen. Roberts said he and Rep. Lukens toured some ranches in Jackson County following instances with wolves killing livestock and family pets.

“Unfortunately it’s a preview of what will happen in other parts of the Western Slope,” Sen. Roberts said.

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