Special interest groups have filed a lawsuit against Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to halt anticipated wolf reintroductions. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association filed the suit on Monday just as state employees are finalizing logistics to reintroduce wolves after the iconic keystone species has been functionally absent from the state for 80 years.
In 2020 the voters of Colorado decided to bring back wolves via ballot initiative. Since the vote, state and federal agencies have carried out long, thorough processes to ensure that all stakeholders have been involved in planning efforts. Livestock owners will have coexistence resources available and will be fully compensated for livestock lost to wolves. Moreover, both state and federal rules allow for the killing of wolves in certain circumstances.
The lawsuit’s target is an agreement between CPW and FWS that’s been in place since 1976. According to the special interest groups, that agreement serves as the federal permit for Colorado to transport and release wolves into the state. However, authorization for those activities comes from the recently finalized federal “10(j) rule,” which involved extensive public involvement and robust environmental analysis. The stockgrower groups have praised that rule because it also enables killing and hazing of wolves that, for example, attack livestock.
“This flimsy lawsuit is a last ditch effort to stop a democratic process because some business owners didn’t like the outcome,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “For the past three years, the concerns of ranchers and livestock owners have been elevated in painstaking and deliberate state and federal processes. Government officials have bent over backwards to accommodate this special interest, but apparently, nothing but the complete absence of wolves on the landscape will be enough.”
“It’s a red herring,” said Tom Delehanty, an attorney with Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s 10(j) rule is what authorizes Colorado to transport and release wolves into the state. The rule was finalized after months of public input and a significant environmental review process, so the groups’ complaint about lack of input and review ignores reality and all the work done by agency personnel to make reintroduction a success.”
“The same stockgrowers who formed the ‘Stop the Wolf’ coalition, but lost the election, are now trying to block wolves again even though a full-scale Environmental Impact Statement on the reintroduction process has just been completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Delaney Rudy, Colorado director with Western Watersheds Project. “We look forward to the courts quickly seeing through this sour-grapes attempt, and to Colorado having wolves on the ground before the end of the year.”
“Conflicts between wolves and livestock are exceedingly rare, and CPW has gone to great lengths to ensure that ranchers are taken care of,” said Ryan Sedgeley, southern Rockies representative for the Endangered Species Coalition. “There is expertise and resources on the ground ready to minimize conflict. And the Colorado General Assembly has put money aside for compensation.”