Coloradans barely wailing for wolves

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Colorado voters are wary of wolves. 

Early voting results on Tuesday showed wolf reintroduction as one of the tightest contests on Tuesday’s ballot, with voters narrowly approving of Proposition 114. The measure would direct Colorado Parks and Wildlife to come up with a plan to reintroduce gray wolves to the Western Slope by the end of 2023. 

Proposition 114 was leading by less than 20,000 votes with more than 2.6 million votes counted by 9 p.m. on Tuesday night. The measure would have marked the first time that voters — not federal wildlife biologists — directed state officials to reintroduce wolves. Wolf reestablishment in the Northern Rockies, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina and Great Lakes region was done under direction of the federal government and the Endangered Species Act. 

Bill Haggerty, a Democrat from Grand Junction, said Proposition 114 was the toughest issue for him on this ballot. Haggerty, an author of hiking and outdoor guidebooks, is a former information specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He has been listening to many arguments for both sides from a large network of former wildlife workers. 

“I could have gone either way, but I voted against it,” Haggerty said.

The early voting results showed a split along urban and rural lines in Colorado, with voters in eight of 11 Front Range counties approving the measure while the state’s more rural counties on the plains and Western Slope leaned away..

Last week, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the gray wolf was no longer protected under endangered species laws, meaning protection of wolves would transfer to states. (The delisting is expected to be challenged in court.)

Colorado already has a law protecting wolves as a “species of concern” that makes it illegal to kill the predators, unlike Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, where federal delisting in 2008 made it legal to hunt and trap the large canines. And wolves already are migrating south into the state, with wildlife officials documenting a pack earlier this year in northwest Colorado.

Supporters of Proposition 114 said the delisting only amplified the need for more protection and formal reintroduction of wolves. Opponents of the ballot measure said the delisting proved that wolf populations in the country are healthy and formal reintroduction was not needed.

Randi Johnson, a Democrat from Greenwood Village, voted for Proposition 114 because she thinks that Colorado needs more wolves and fewer people coming into the state. She said she believes wolves will help balance the ecosystem of the state.

“I think we have enough of an elk and deer population here for the wolves to thrive,” Johnson said. 

She also said she believes wolves would help keep down the population of coyotes — an animal that has been problematic in suburban communities like Greenwood Village, where town officials approved the killing of coyotes in open spaces more than a decade ago.

Johnson said she had one niggling doubt when she marked her ballot: “What I worry about is yahoos killing these wolves on sight.”

Haggerty, from Grand Junction, predicts that wolves are going to continue to move into Colorado, regardless of the ballot outcome. He also anticipates that ranchers will try to stop them.

“We don’t need to try to reintroduce them,” he said, “because ranchers are just going to ‘shoot, shovel and shut up.’”

Bill Fales ranches 700 acres near Carbondale and feels as strongly about opposing the reintroduction of wolves as he does about being a “proud Democrat.” Earlier this week he worried that the majority of voters on the eastern side of the Continental Divide were going to decide an issue that will only affect a minority on the Western Slope. 

What really riles Fales about the issue is the lack of science behind the measure. 

“There is no science being brought into this issue,” Fales said. “It’s all emotion.”

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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