DENVER— An unprecedented state ballot initiative requiring wildlife officials to reintroduce endangered gray wolves in Colorado passed Tuesday’s election with a 20,000-vote majority and hundreds of pro-wolf precincts left to be counted. Opponents conceded today that the measure has passed.
Proposition 114 requires Colorado Parks and Wildlife to develop a wolf restoration and management plan based on science and statewide public hearings. Reintroduction to areas west of the Continental Divide must begin by Dec. 31, 2023.
“This is a great victory for wolves coming on the heels of Trump’s illegal action to remove federal protection, and it will help restore the natural balance in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The people of the Colorado have helped turn the page on a brutal chapter of our history that saw wolves exterminated across the West.”
Throughout the pandemic hundreds of volunteers campaigned statewide for Proposition 114, staffing phone banks and waving banners along roads. The livestock industry bitterly opposed the measure and spent heavily on anti-wolf advertising.
Reintroducing gray wolves to Colorado will restore the species in a key portion of its range between existing populations of wolves in the northern Rockies and critically imperiled Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona. Mexican wolves could benefit from occasional interbreeding with northern wolves.
“Wolves are the engine of evolution for terrestrial ecosystems, and their return to Colorado will benefit deer and elk herds, the health of our forests, songbirds and even rare wolverines,” said Robinson.
Colorado’s original population of wolves was eradicated by 1945. During the “frontier” era, large amounts of money were spent to make way for livestock. In 1869 Colorado became the first Rocky Mountain state to enact a bounty on wolves — 50 cents per wolf. Colorado’s wolves were ultimately wiped out by federal salaried hunters, with the last wolf killed in 1945 in the San Juan Mountains.
In 1982 the Colorado Wildlife Commission, an appointed body dominated by ranchers, voted to oppose “every person or entity which may now or in the future suggest or plan” reintroduction of wolves. This largely persuaded the Fish and Wildlife Service to leave Colorado out of recovery planning that was the basis for wolf restoration elsewhere under the Endangered Species Act.