May 8, 2023

Colorado Wolf Legislation Makes Its Way to Governor’s Desk

Why It Matters: State fish and wildlife agencies have long been recognized as the primary and most respected managers of fish and wildlife in the United States. These agencies are staffed by trained professionals with backgrounds in a wide variety of expertise including law enforcement, land management, wildlife biology, human dimensions, and numerous other disciplines. These agencies carry out on-the-ground conservation efforts and possess a thorough and science-based understanding of their state’s conservation priorities as well as the biological and social carrying capacities of specific species – including the gray wolves that will soon be reintroduced to the state.


With the passage of Proposition 114 in November of 2020, Colorado voters directed the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves in Colorado no later than December 31, 2023 on designated lands west of the Continental Divide. Proposition 114 further directed Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to hold statewide hearings to solicit public input in the development of the state’s Wolf Restoration and Management Plan and allocate state funds to assist livestock owners in preventing conflicts with gray wolves and to pay fair compensation for livestock losses.

At the time of the passage of Proposition 114, the gray wolf was classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, in February of 2022, a federal court order overturned the previous ruling which resulted in the gray wolf once again being listed as an “endangered” species under the ESA in most of the lower 48 states, including Colorado. With that court ruling, the management of gray wolves in Colorado is now solely under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), unless the state is granted a 10(j) rule by the USFWS for its ballot-mandated wolf reintroduction effort.

The 10(j) rule is a provision of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that allows for the reintroduction of federally listed endangered species into suitable habitat outside of the species’ current range as a “nonessential experimental population.” When an endangered species is reintroduced into an area under the 10(j) rule, the prohibitions and consultation requirements that exist for that species under the ESA are relaxed.  Under the 10(j) rule that CPW is pursuing, gray wolves would be regulated as a “threatened” species which allows for greater management flexibility by the state agency, as well as providing more nuanced management prescriptions.

Spearheaded by Colorado Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chairs Senator Perry Will and Senator Dylan Roberts, SB23-255 – Wolf Depredation Compensation Fund and SB23-256 – Management Of Gray Wolves Reintroduction aim to ensure that CPW has the necessary tools in place to successfully manage the species long-term when implementing Proposition 114.

SB23-255 establishes and funds a compensation account that would provide sufficient funding to offset the costs incurred by Colorado’s agricultural producers related to gray wolves.

SB23-256 requires that the USFWS must grant a 10(j) designation to Colorado’s wolf introduction effort before wolves can be released in the state. This would ensure that CPW is granted greater management authority and provided with a wide range of tools and management prescriptions that are necessary to ensure a successful reintroduction effort, to manage the species relative to cultural carrying capacity, and to ensure that gray wolves are managed in concert with all the other species across the state.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, along with several other in-state and national outdoor sporting conservation organizations, signed letters of support for both SB23-255 and SB23-256 and provided verbal testimony for said legislation. Both bills have advanced out of the legislature with strong bipartisan support and are currently on their way to the Governor’s desk.

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