(The Center Square) – The reintroduction of gray wolves in Colorado can officially move forward after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its final decision to designate wolves in the state as an experimental population.
The designation, called the 10(j) rule in the Endangered Species Act, is effective on Dec. 8, 30 days after the agency published its final decision in the Federal Register. The USFWS published a report in September and provided 30 days for review.
Colorado voters approved Proposition 114 in November 2020 requiring the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to restore the wolves west of the continental divide by the end of 2023. However, under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the species of wolves needed to be classified as a nonessential experimental population. This process can sometimes take several years of negotiations but was completed on an accelerated timeline to meet the deadline approved by Colorado voters.
In May, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vetoed legislation that prohibited the state from restoring the wolves until it received the federal designation, saying the bill wasn’t necessary. The governor did sign SB23-255, which created a compensation fund for ranchers whose livestock are killed or injured by wolves. The state will transfer $175,000 in fiscal year 2023-24 and $350,000 for fiscal year 2024-25 and future years from the general fund to a Wolf Depredation Compensation Fund.
The 10(j) rule gives Colorado more flexibility to manage the species once reintroduced. It provides for potential conflicts to be addressed between wolves and humans and wolves and domestic animals while continuing to support the conservation of the species.
“This final rule respects the will of Colorado voters, farmers, ranchers, and conservationists, and sets our state up for responsible gray wolf reintroduction,” U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., said in a statement.
Hickenlooper urged the USFWS and the Department of the Interior in September 2021 to begin working on federal-state agreements and to invoke the portion of the Endangered Species Act to allow the reintroduction.
A CPW spokesperson wrote in an email to The Center Square it was not planning to issue a statement about today’s actions. CPW completed a 261-page plan for restoration and management of the wolves.
Last month, CPW announced a one-year agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to capture 10 gray wolves for reintroduction.