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Colorado Senate committee greenlights nearly $2 million to reintroduce gray wolf

A law narrowly passed by ballot initiative requires the state to reintroduce gray wolves by the end of the year.

DENVER (CN) — Colorado lawmakers want to spend nearly $2 million to support the reintroduction of gray wolves along the Western Slope, with the state Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approving two bills Friday allocating funds for both wolf management and livestock loss.

In 2020, Colorado voters narrowed elected to bring the gray wolf back to the state after it was hunted to extinction locally during the last century. The ballot initiative gave the state until the end of 2023 to put paws on the ground.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission published a draft plan this past December and held public meetings across the state through February. The final plan is expected to be published next month.

The gray wolf, Canis lupus, was first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974. Because wolves are a protected species, the state must move in sync with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agency proposed complementary rules in February that include lethal management under certain conditions.

A slim 50.91% of Centennial State voters supported the measure in 2020 to reintroduce wolves. The proposition backed by conservationists received strong criticism from residents and ranchers along the rural Western Slope, which happens to be ideal wolf habitat.

Now the Legislature is preparing a budget to support both wolf reintroduction and compensate livestock owners for domesticated animals hunted by the apex predators.

Management of Gray Wolves Reintroduction, SB23-256, is a bipartisan bill allocating $1.6 million for wolf management each year until the animals reach the state. Once wolves are on the ground, lawmakers estimate ongoing management to cost $500,000 annually.

The bill initially halted wolf reintroduction until the federal government completed an environmental impact statement on proposed habitat areas, but the measure threatened to delay the state plan several years. On Friday, state Senator Dylan Roberts, a Democrat representing Eagle and Routt counties and the bill sponsor, introduced an amendment to remove the impact statement requirement. The committee approved the amendment 7-0.

A related bill, SB23-255, creates the Wolf Depredation Compensation Fund and earmarks $350,000 annually to pay for livestock losses.

During testimony on the state plan, many livestock owners asked the state to raise the per-animal cap, which was initially set at $8,000 and raised to $15,000. Livestock owners also asked the state wildlife agency to lower the burden of proof required to submit predation claims.

The two bills will now move to the full Senate where they must pass three readings before being considered by the House of Representatives.

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Categories / Environment, Government, Politics, Regional

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