Wolves Are Coming Back to Colorado. Now What?
This article is part of our ongoing series Wolves in Colorado: Science & Stories, a special six-part virtual presentation of the Institute for Science & Policy and Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources, in partnership with the Center for Collaborative Conservation, the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence, CSU Extension, and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Watch the full recording of the session and explore the episode archive.
In November, Colorado voters narrowly approved Proposition 114, initiating a managed reintroduction of gray wolves by 2023. Now what? As state agencies and local communities prepare for the species’ return, important conversations continue about the anticipated impacts on agriculture, recreation, tourism, land use, and more. What path will the reintroduction take over the next few years? And how do managers plan to balance both human needs and ecological considerations?
Colorado Parks & Wildlife Director Dan Prenzlow joined Institute Director Kristan Uhlenbrock and Center for Collaborative Conservation Director John Sanderson to discuss the practical implications of the ballot initiative result and then share some of CPW’s longer-term goals and vision for bringing wolves back to the state.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full episode recording here.
KRISTAN UHLENBROCK: Good evening everyone and thanks for joining us. Before we get started, I want to acknowledge that both myself and our guests reside on the traditional lands of 48 Native American tribes who now lives throughout the American Southwest, Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, including the Southern Ute, the Ute Mountain tribe, the Arapaho, the Cheyenne, the Apache, the Comanche and the Shoshone tribe.
Last fall, we put together five episodes leading up to the November ballot initiative [around wolf reintroduction]. Since that ballot initiative, we have decided to come back and bring you an epilogue episode where we're gonna focus on what does this mean after the vote. I want to acknowledge and thank our partners from the Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources, including the Center for Collaborative Conservation, the Center for Human Carnivore Co-Existence, and CSU Extension. And so with that, I want to welcome my co-host John Sanderson who is the director of the Center for Collaborative Conversation. He and I will be walking you through tonight's conversation with our guest speaker. Good evening, John. How are you doing?
JOHN SANDERSON: Hey Kristan, thanks so much. I'm doing great, beautiful day here in Fort Collins, and thank you all for joining us tonight. We'll be talking about a question that was on your ballot this past November 3: Proposition 114 with the title “Reintroduction and Management of gray wolves.”
So Proposition 114 requires the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves in Colorado and begin reintroduction by December 31, 2023. Now, the commission is an 11-member citizen board appointed by the Governor. The job of implementing the decisions of the commission falls to the state agency Colorado Parks and Wildlife, also known as CPW. Our guest tonight is CPW Director Dan Prenzlow. Dan was born in Colorado, and those of us at Colorado State University are proud of the fact that Dan graduated from CSU with a bachelor's degree in wildlife biology in 1985. Dan was named director in May of 2019 after 33 years of experience with the agency, and he's worked in several parts of the state. Pretty much all of the state, I think we can say, and in a number of different roles. So he moved into his role as director with a vast amount of experience managing wildlife in Colorado, and we welcome him here tonight. Thanks for being here with us, Dan.
DAN PRENZLOW: Thank you, John. I appreciate it, and Kristan, I appreciate the invite. So not only did I go to school in Fort Collins and am a CSU alum, but I was born in Fort Collins, and then we lived in Virginia Dale at the base of Red Mountain which I believe CSU manages now as a property. Baptized there in a little church right along the road there in Livermore, so grew up in northern Colorado. Interesting kind of a trip back home.
JS: Yeah, great. And it's a lovely place to be still all these years later. So Dan, I give a very brief high level summary of Proposition 114. What does the law say? What are you expected to deliver as a result of this new law that we put into place back in November?
DP: Well, we've kind of broken that down, of course. We made sure we always had attorney help because it is a law now. Once it's voted on an once it's certified, it's actually placed in Title 33 in my statutes and so I make sure that we get that right.
I would say there's six major points, John, to what it requires the Parks and Wildlife Commission to do. First is to hold statewide hearings to acquire information to use in developing a plan. Secondly, to develop a plan to restore and manage wolves. Three, comply with Colorado revised statute 33 2 105.7 reporting requirements which was before introduction, submit a report to the General Assembly, including whether introduction will impair existing uses of private land. Four, take steps necessary to begin reintroduction of wolves by 12/31/23. Fifth, oversee wolf restoration and management to include distribution of state funds made available to address wolf/livestock conflicts. And sixth, periodically obtain public input to update the plan so it's fresh, not gathering any dust.
JS: That sounds like a lot. Given those deliverables - and I know you all have been working on this plan at least since the vote and probably before that as well - what are the main objectives you have now going forward to meet those deliverables?
DP: Yeah, I appreciate that, John. Yeah, obviously we started before – you know, we fully, at some level, expected that it had a good possibility to pass. Actually, we had, I think, four scenarios prior to the vote: pass as a state species, pass as a federally listed species, don't pass as a federally listed species and don't pass as a state species. So, obviously it passed. And it was a federal species until January 6, and then it's been delisted, and we can talk about that later. There's been several lawsuits filed about relisting wolves. So currently it is a state species, not a federally endangered species. And that started actually I believe Election Day or the day after, and then it got certified January 6, 2021.
So back to the objectives. First, really gathering and sharing of information to build awareness and promote engagement across the state. Two, design and implement an inclusive and transparent process to meet the requirements outlined in Proposition 114. Third, to collaborate with technical experts and diverse stakeholders to share knowledge and draft management and conservation strategies. And fourth, to foster a commitment and collaboration toward plan implementation. Obviously, you can read between the lines in my opinion. You can do this, but to do this well takes really everybody and a collective conversation, and you deal with the issues now or you deal with them later. I really do believe 114 requires that discussion now, not later.
JS: Yeah, and I've heard from several folks that the biology and ecology of wolves is actually relatively straightforward, but the people side, I think, is the is the real complicated piece. But we'll get to all of that in a bit. So, I've listened to I don't know how many hours of commission hearings now or commission meetings. There were two days back in January. And then there was another meeting just last Wednesday. A dozen hours or so of conversation about this, and lots of comments from the public. And so you all, the commissioners have made some decisions and given you some direction. Can you share a bit about what direction is at this point?
DP: Yeah, absolutely. As you said, lots of discussion in January and as far as I’m concerned, they kind of put some meat on the bones of some of the plan. In February we had a three hour workshop and talked about a little bit of that detail and so I'll get into some of that and obviously we can talk about that for the rest of the hour. But the Parks and Wildlife Commission will serve as a decision making body, you know, for the implementation and development of this plan. This role will include three primary responsibilities. One, to consider options for public involvement and approve the public involvement process to develop the plan, which obviously - that was what we worked on in January. Two, receive input from CPW staff to public stakeholders and technical experts and provide feedback on draft management plan concepts and strategies. So that's to come, still. And three, to approve the final plan.
The Parks and Wildlife Commission will also monitor the process and the products throughout and provide feedback and guidance as necessary. It will be in the purview of the Parks and Wildlife Commission to either slow down or speed up the planning process as necessary and that was a lot of discussion in the January meeting. Some of the detail: Parks and Wildlife Commission will convene two groups in consultation with Parks and Wildlife to support the management planning process. One will be a technical working group, and one will be a stakeholder advisory group. It's important to note that we propose these groups be advisory bodies to the Parks and Wildlife Commission, which is the deciding body. They will the advisory groups on this decision. The technical working group will be CPW staff as well as other state and federal experts who will convene to provide objective scientific based information to inform the development of the plan. The technical workgroup will propose conservation objectives and management strategies that CPW will incorporate into the draft plan. Kind of the who, what, when, and where, damage prevention, compensation program, etc. The technical workgroup will share information with the stakeholder advisory group, which I'll talk about next throughout the planning process, including the development of a draft management strategies and actions for stakeholder review.
The CPW director, in consultation with the Parks and Wildlife Commission, will approve members of the technical working group. Member representation may include CPW, of course, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Department of Agriculture, National Park Service, tribal representation, and other state or federal agency representation as deemed appropriate. And there was a discussion in the commission in February, chose not to do ex officio nonvoting Parks and Wildlife commissioners since all the commission would hear everything, so those will be public meetings, of course. So that's the technical working group.
The stakeholder advisory group will be a broad range of interest in wolves and wolf management and conservation and will be convened to support the development of the draft strategies to provide consensus recommendations to CPW with dissenting views captured. The technical working group will be responsible for the content and plan, while the stakeholder advisory group will be providing opportunities to make substantive contributions for consideration. Where the stakeholder advisory group is able to achieve consensus on conservation objectives or management strategies, their input will receive priority consideration. Again the CPW director, in consultation with the Parks and Wildlife Commission, will approve appointments to the stakeholder advisory group following an application and review process coordinated by CPW.
The external facilitator, which we will talk about here in a minute, John, maybe, will have a role coordinating this process. CPW will seek a diverse and inclusive membership that is balanced between those two areas. Member representation may include stakeholders representing both advocacy groups, livestock producers, representatives of local and county government, members at large, representatives of general citizens, representative of environmental interest, sportspersons, academia, and cooperative extension. Parks and Wildlife Commission which, again, we've talked about and decided that they would not be part of that. Executive Director of DNR or their designee as an ex officio nonvoting, the director of Parks and Wildlife - me or their designee, again ex officio nonvoting - or the Commissioner of Agriculture or their designee, ex officio nonvoting.
It is recommended that this group should be no more than really 14 or 15, individuals, if possible, so they can work effectively. We also feel that this group should have inclusive representation from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and geographic regions in Colorado, familiarity or interest in wolf management and conservation, diverse wolf management interest: conservation, advocacy, education, hunting, shopping, recreation, livestock, socioeconomic, et cetera. It won’t just be biological, obviously.
I did touch base with a professional facilitator. We did go out with a request for proposal that is on the street as of a couple days before, so about a week ago, maybe last Monday. We are proposing that we have that external facilitator who will be contracted to run the stakeholder advisory group and the technical work group and help hold statewide hearings and other engagement forums and public comment opportunities in coordination with my staff. This will be a key position of our plan, the ultimate success of this planning process. And of course, my staff will be involved, the general public will be involved. That's kind of a nutshell of those two groups and the current plan.
KU: That's great. Dan and John, if I may, I think we want to kind of unpack a lot of that. We've seen a lot of audience engagement curious about the makeup of the groups. But I actually want to take a little bit bigger picture view before we kind of head down this road into some of the specifics in more detail.
Dan, you know this is a very public issue. And we've heard that CPW received a tremendous amount of comments regarding the reintroduction of wolves. Why are they different, and why do you think there's so much public interest in this topic?
DP: That's a good question. I spend nights not sleeping about that, because my inbox is full every day from every opinion in the world, from every direction, on wolves. I'm not a philosopher. I am a biologist from CSU and have a lot of management experience. Best I can tell you is that, you know, obviously it's an apex predator. They're a generalist species, so whether they're on the Endangered Species List or not, they thrive wherever they’re at. If they have food and space, they'll find a living. If you look back, you know, they’re in the Bible, Little Red Riding Hood which someone said was written in the 1600s but it was folklore as early as 1200, or something. I don't know if that's true or not, no time to Google that answering all the emails that I've got. But I think at the end of the day, you know wolves do impact the landscape. They are part of the natural landscape. But if you're a livestock producer, you know, or if you're somebody walking, you know, a dog on a trail, they will impact your life.
And so there are just lots of different opinions about that. There's a connectivity for some people that the ecosystem’s imbalanced if you don't have wolves and the other side of that is the world's not going to be well if there are wolves on the landscape because they impact your livelihood. So, I think, somewhere in between - that is probably really the truth. But that, you know, that's what we've been told we get to do in Proposition 114.
JS: And Dan, I'd love to unpack the technical working group and the stakeholder advisory group a little bit as well. We've gotten quite a few questions already about who sits on those groups, how they will be selected and so forth. And I know that been a big part of the commission meetings in the last couple of months. I'd love your thoughts on, just to begin with, at the very highest level: what's at stake for Colorado? I heard and Reid deWalt during one of the commission meetings, I don't know if it was last week or in January, describe this as one of the biggest conservation actions in North America going on right now. And it really feels like there's a lot at stake, that we're hearing in these commission meetings from people who really want to see wolves on the landscape and those who really do not. But what's at stake for Colorado?
DP: Well that's a good question. Multilayered, John. I'll try and get not off track. For me, as I talked about before, it's a requirement for me. It's the law. I'm going to implement that. But for anybody else, that's not a job requirement. Again, you're a livestock producer, you're worried about your bottom line. If you believe wolves are the most important thing on the landscape, you can't imagine why we haven't done this prior. And so, I think what's at stake for Colorado is that, if not done well - and I'll get back to this - if not done well...process matters in this one. If I was bringing on species that really didn't impact many people and it was really a feel good kind of thing...I think process always matters, but it's less important than this one. Not done well, we'll spend the rest of our lives or years and years really arguing over that decision.
I think back to your original question, wolves up to this date have been moved in, and there are some that have gotten here naturally, but any of them were moved in in the lower 48 states were done under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act. There wasn't very much collaboration with the states or anybody when that happened under the Endangered Species Act.
I'm not an expert in that. Someone I'm sure will tell me all the collaboration that did go on but that was a decision by the US Fish and Wildlife service on the Endangered Species Act. So Colorado is unique in that even though this was a decision by voters, it's not by Endangered Species Act of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, although they are our partners in the US. So Colorado is very unique and our neighboring states are paying attention, are very interested and apprehensive.
So that's the one part. I think the second part, I'll go back to the process. Actually somebody much wiser than me said that whether this is good news or bad news for you, the wolf reintroduction or restoration, if you break somebody's process and they feel left behind, they go from thinking that's bad news to really seeking revenge. And I think if we don't do this well, it's really - the language tells us how to do this and we're very sincere about that - who will pay the bills, who will actually pay the price of that if we don't do as well.
And the people of Colorado will say if we don't do this well at some level. And that's why if you look at the language, there's language about not creating land use issues, you know, having a robust process, all those parts that I've talked about before are really designed about trying to get some kind of - I guess my word is a sense of fairness and sense of discussion, even if it doesn't go your way or does go your way. And we are doing our best not to re litigate this discussion. The vote passed. It's a law, and I'm going to implement it, and I'm going to implement as best I can. I can do that haphazardly, or I can ignore people, or I can do the best I can. And I think that that's not a platitude. You deal with it now or you deal with it later. And I think this language and this commission that took a vote is they're going to deal with at the best of their ability now, prior to actually taking action.
So I think Colorado's at stake. There's lots of concern and question about rules being re-endangered. I think, eight of the last nine times the wolves were tried to be delisted, somebody filed suit, and they were flipped. And so there's a high likelihood that wolves will be re-endangered again right in the middle of this process. And so we're trying to be mindful of that. That's one of the reasons we're working with our partners at the US Fish and Wildlife Service because, in theory, I'm in charge now and they may be in charge a year from now, and then I might be in charge a year after that. And so, you know, if you don't understand that there's a political football in here too, I think you would be naive.
KU: I appreciate all those dynamics, Dan. There's a lot there that we could talk on all night, but I do want to pick up on a thread here that's pretty active in the chat and just have you maybe provide some insight about this process piece, which is there's both the technical advisory group and the stakeholder working groups. So there's questions about how do people get involved, how do people get selected, both for the stakeholder group, and then for the technical group. You had listed a number of prerequisites of who would serve on that. And there was a question about other scientific and technical expertise regarding wolf restoration that isn't tied to an agency. So could you talk about who gets selected and what is that process going to look like?
DP: Yeah, okay, perfect. So this week, it will actually come out. We'll put it on our website, we'll run a press release. We’ll come out with an application to be on the stakeholder advisory group. And I said, there's no names in there, we're not married to the 12 or 15 kind of categories in there and none are predetermined. You may have a person that can fill two slots. Maybe if somebody was a county commissioner in their past life and now they're a legislator, well maybe that's two slots that you'd fill. And so you didn't have to have two people, you can have one that could represent, you know, not that constituency but that knowledge base. And so anyway, there will be an application. We'll have a turnaround time of maybe two or three weeks. There'll be a vetting process on your experience and what you can bring to the table. We will look for people that can work together in a group.
Now we expect there's going to be 15 different opinions and there'll be pro wolf and anti wolf and whatever you want. But the idea will be that we work on consensus to make the best decision or recommendations we can to my staff who's writing the plan. That is the application process.
I'll take a side note. I was part of the wolf working group. I saw Rob Edwards’ name pop up - he was part of that in 2004. You know, collaborative processes do work, and you do find common ground. It may not start out that way, but it ends that way. The technical group is really the experts in their fields. Now, this might hurt some people's feelings, whether they're on the call or not, but very few people would be technical experts - including me - on wolf and wolf biology and wolf restoration and damage.
US Fish and Wildlife Services is a good example There's a couple people in the Rocky Mountain region with wolf expertise. So we’re probably not going to have somebody from Massachusetts because they won't make the meetings. So we're not really looking for a hundreds of applications on the technical advisory group. What we will do is if people believe they can fill one of those slots, to send an email to my staff. It won't be a full application because most of the technical advisory group, again, will be experts in their field in those areas that we looked at. We just don't want to overlook anybody in this because this will be the real technical experts, and they will inform my staff as they're writing that plan and the commission. If you think you have a role in that technical advisory group, please send us an email and we'll take it under consideration.
JS: So Dan, I also know from the commission meetings that you all have been consulting with fish and wildlife agencies across the Rockies. There are some 2,000-plus wolves now, north of us and west of us, and other states have been managing this process, and working with wolves on the landscape for a couple of decades now plus. What would you say are the most important lessons that you've heard from those other agencies? And then I'm curious about lessons around stakeholder engagement, but I'm also curious about lessons as it relates to the biological and ecological dimensions of the wolves as well.
DP: Couple stage answer. So we have reached out to all of our neighboring states or northern states that have wolves, and we've reached out to the greater upper Midwest, Wisconsin and Minnesota. They're updating their plans.
It's not up to me, that's what the law requires, is that every state's tackling what you’re tackling, you'll get it done between three and five years. That didn't spook me because I have no alternative to do it differently. That just tells you that it's tough to pull off and it's complicated and everybody has an opinion on how it ought to be. We can't do it in a vacuum, can't do it quickly. I think that struck me.
I think the other thing that probably struck me is that wolves never quit asking for your time. I have no no expertise in that, at least in Colorado, but when they're on the landscape, whether it's the effect on ungulates or effect on livestock or people's land use issues or they're in the people's neighborhoods or whatever it's going to be, with wolves on the landscape, it's just a higher tenor, I guess. Lots of questions, lots of concern. So my staff are just always going to be answering questions. We do that now. But, to think that five years from now, every question will be resolved about wolves...we answer questions every day about what do I do about mountain lions in my neighborhood, or coyotes, or prairie dogs in my window.
So, wolves, it's just a higher tenor. We're not staffed up to handle that yet. And that's okay, we don't need a bunch of staff sitting there just think tanking yet. There will be a lot of damage issues, we will have safety concerns, we'll have to answer those whether they're real and I think that those other states have said, it's a bigger nut to crack than than, like you mentioned earlier John, the biology of wolves really is pretty simple. It's the socioeconomic, political processes and how it impacts people that are not so simple.
I'm sure there's a bunch more of that. Collaring is one we don't have an answer to yet. Radio collars. Some people will say be careful what you collar because everybody will want a collar on every pack of wolves so they can monitor and know everything that's going on. I get it right, I want to know. We did a study on mountain lions in and around the Front Range, we had that real robust discussion internally. Should we really turn those, you know satellite collars before it was VHS and you might, you know you would never get a reading unless you’re in the airplane once a week, but when you get to GPS collars. you can download it every minute if you'd like to on that location and that animal, and the batteries don't last very long.
My point being, John, that when you have a lion, we have lions that wander in the schoolyard, people's backyards, commercial sites in the middle of the night - what's the obligation to inform the public of that? Because those are the ones you know about, what about the ones you don't know about? And so there are really robust discussions about how much you really can or should share that information whicj is really not public anyway. You have to be careful how much information they want because they can get right close and personal. You know, the lion’s in your backyard while you're in your jacuzzi.
KU: We’re gonna have to spend a little bit of time talking about budgeting for some of this because that's coming up. But before we get to that, let me ask you, Dan, about the schedule. The law states that by December 2023 is when a plan should be in place and we should have wolves being reintroduced to Colorado, and then the Governor has made requests or suggestion about 2022. Where are we with this deadline, what is this going to look like from a timing perspective?
DP: Well we know the latest we can do that, and so there was a fair amount of discussion at the commission meeting. Obviously, the Governor came on and encouraged us to do a robust process but move it along. The commission took a lot of discussion about that. The law was very specific about 12/31/23 and so where they ended...we have to do the planning, that needs to be done prior to moving wolves. And so I don't think, the commission did agree that we would plan to have wolves on the landscape by 2023, so that would necessitate a plan be done a little earlier.
We have all the requirements we need to get done. And so, even the first line of those six points talked about the commission must hold meetings around the state to develop a plan. There was a lot of discussion about that. Should we draft the plan and then take that out? Well if you read that literally it says the commission shall hold meetings and then develop a plan. Now, does that have to be in person? No it doesn't. But COVID is COVID. And there's a big sense from really every direction, that when you have meetings, you really shouldn't be only on the Zoom platform. There's a lot of discussion that you need to have some platform like Zoom because people are worried about you know their safety, but a lot of people want to have that discussion in person. And the commission was very sensitive to that.
So the long winded answer, Kristan, is that we will get it done by the due date. If we can get it done earlier and hit all those milestones and get it done well, we'll be glad to do that. So we'll see that there's parts that we can't completely control and we’re discussing with our partners and Fish and Wildlife Service about 10J rules. You hear a lot about that at commission meetings. That's a rule under the Endangered Species Act that would address some of that land use language. And so we're not in control of all that, but they're fully aware that we like to move that along and have already asked about starting those processes now. You do need a draft plan for them to react to propose and alternative or so they get to say, oh, that's a great idea. So we've got to have a draft plan.
JS: Dan, can I ask a specific thing in here that's come up from come up a couple of times from people who are on the phone with us. I'm not entirely clear when I read Proposition 114 on this because I think it's a little bit vague, because it kind of says we should have a plan by December 31, 2023, but then also wolves are to be reintroduced by 2023. Can you clarify that for us, that particular timing between planning and actually opening the doors of the cages and releasing wolves on the ground?
DP: Well, there's a loaded question in that, John. I know you didn't just try and throw me under the bus but you just did, but I'm gonna answer with a smile because it's, you know, it is a fair question. I'm not a lawyer, I don’t want to be a lawyer, glad I’m not a lawyer. But here's the lawyer talk in me that I don't have. You can make an argument - that's what lawyers say, you can make an argument - for both of those. I read Proposition 114 that says we need to have a plan by 12/31/23. I can promise you that the proponents and the people that wrote that believe that meant that there were wolves on the landscape by that date, but it doesn't say that, it says a plan. What the commission did, fully looking at the intent of that, is that they would have wolves on the landscape by 2023. That was a big movement because you could look at it differently.
And the commission could have said yeah, it's just a plan and semantics and say okay, the plan’s done by December 2023 or by January 2024, which is a month later. So we just tried to stay out of that briar pit, and said look, we will try and have - not try, we'll have a plan done and be moving wolves. We chose to just try and as best we could stay away from the “you can make an argument” lawyer talk. But you're right, it's not as clear as it could have been.
KU: What about funding? How is this management of wolves going to be funded?
DP: That's a great question. So if nothing happens that's additional, if you peel the onion back, the law states that about state funds and game cash funds, and when it talks about state funds, it's probably talking about general fund taxpayer dollars but we don't get general funds. We're self funded and other some real rare instances.
So, again, great question. If nothing happens, I pay the bill. But it does contemplate the vote of the people. And so, and I would tell you is it's important, the color of money and who pays for decisions really does matter. And so, if it's today and we don't get additional funding, I would say sportsmen or women's dollars are getting used on something that really wasn't their idea and quite frankly most, if not all, weren't overly supportive of that bill.
And so, there's a real robust discussion - matter of fact there's a bill in the legislature right now - and it's supported, my understanding is, by wolf proponents and wolf opponents to find general fund dollars to fund the next five years of this, the restoration and the planning and the damage, I would add, if there is any damage. We do have some wolves on the landscape today. We are, you know, liable for that damage. I don't think it'll be significant - we only have a few wolves on the landscape - but I don't know what tomorrow holds.
So, that answer to that question in the legislature is a really good question. I think it's important, if this is a vote of the people, to have to take money from, whether it's hunters or anglers or other pots like federal aid, to do what the voters voted for. There's a robust discussion about coming up with general funds since it was a vote. And last but not least on that, we think it's about - with facilitation and if there's staff, meetings, obviously moving wolves...it's not free to move wolves when we get to that point...it's about a million dollars a year, or five years at about $5 million. And so there is discussion again on a bill like that. Ultimately we hope that that's funded. We do have support of the Governor's office in that. And we hope it gets funded and whether we put in a bank account, we don't have to have this conversation again and over the next five years we can do our job.
JS: Dan, I would love to get to compensation programs and all the dimensions of that that are mentioned in 114, but before we get there, I'd love to ask you a little bit about the role of science in this whole process. You know, leading up to the vote, there were, you know, a variety of views expressed about the role of science, I mean not the role of science but what is true, right, and I'm curious within the technical advisory group, what are you thinking about?
How will you grapple with the science and make sure that there's a clear understanding of what existing science there is but then also perhaps even more important going forward. How do we work to create good science that everyone can accept and believe in, or at least a majority of us can accept and believe in, and that science could be around, you know impacts on cattle could be around impacts on elk trophic cascades, which has been a big focus of the wolves up in Yellowstone? How do we deal with that science going forward? What do you think that might look like for both the agency and other partners like universities and other agencies?
DP: Great question, broad question. I'm not sure I'll unpack all that in the time we have. I think it does talk about science based management. The second part of that is as to be continually refreshed so that's part of that science. If there's new science out there, you know additive science then when we did the plan, you would add to that. Parks and Wildlife has been doing science-based wildlife management for 123 years, but that's not a shock to us and you want to start there.
But it's not purely a science decision. There's impacts socio economic cetera but you got to start with science and biology. And so obviously when people will agree or disagree on some scientific levels, and that's part of the discussion. That's part of the reason you have a technical group and stakeholder advisory group, so let's concentrate a little more on the technical group. There's some really hard science about certain things. Wolves again are generalist species, they'll do pretty well if they have food and space.
You get to depredation, as you kind of started out that question, or game damage per se. Wolves will impact livestock owners. That's pretty simple. That's not simple emotionally for the rancher. I don't want to dispel that but that specific damage is pretty easy to quantify if you can find about it. What's less easy quantifiable, is pregnancy rate different or is there, worry loss or abortion rates of domestic livestock. I have no expertise in that. We'll obviously have to bring people to that technical advisory group, or to commission to unpack that.
There's some decent science about preventive measures. Very good science not only in the US but in Europe, and a fair amount of science in Europe about that, that larger scale of conception rate, etc etc. And I'm no expert in that. I'm a wildlife manager all the way. I got a degree at CSU but, you know, range is not my expertise.
So the other thing I'd add to that: we'll have a lot of science discussions about that, and we'll manage to the best science that that we believe fits Colorado's plan and that's why you will have different views. And the other thing that we're going to do in the next few months with the commission, this will be open obviously to the public. Everything is on the public record, so everybody gets to see what we're working on. No secrets in this plan.
We don't expect at the commission for all our staff, for the public to be wolf experts. You know that that's a life long thing. But let's base on reality and not perception and things that have been learned or known about wolves in the Northern Rockies. That's, you know, the biology, the damage, how to manage, the interaction with humans. And so we envision that kind of throughout, we're going to start some education sessions that really start again, John, with what's the current science, what's the reality not what are people's perceptions.
JS: When thinking about science in the wildlife management context, we're usually thinking about the sorts of things we've been discussing for the past few minutes around wolf biology and ecology. And yet in recent decades we've also learned as you yourself said earlier that perhaps even the bigger piece of the challenge here is the social challenge. And the vote did show just purely numbers wise, the urban/ rural divide that we'll hear about. And I personally hold the view that for the future of Colorado, we should be working to close that divide. What are you thinking, or what are your staff thinking perhaps, about how we bring social science to understanding, how we bring Colorado to gather around this contentious issue, rather than be divided?
DP: Process matters. If there's any subject that process matters more, it’s wolves. In a perfect world that we might have more process and more time and more discussion. But we have a finite time limit and that's okay and we'll get that done. You always have a finite budget, right whether we get funded or not. So we'll get this done on budget and on time. And we'll do our best to bring everybody along.
Two points back to hard science. I'm not trying to be the scientist here but there's some things that aren't resolved and depends on who you talk to. Chronic Wasting Disease a good example. The science of whether wolves will really help with that or not help with that or it would be a slam dunk help with that or just a minor help with that - there's not a ton of science. We think there will be maybe a partnership with CSU will answer that question but my understanding is that it won't be answered.
We can talk about trophic cascade used in Yellowstone. Willow started to come back. Aspen started a rebound. That's a fact. It's also true there's a lot more bison there now. So is that a complete success or failure is not for me to decide. I don't think it's ever that black and white. I'm pretty sure we have some curveballs for all of us. And so, we'll get to figure out the science as we go together.
So, the second part is that urban/rural divide. I must say the vote was close. I know what my job entails for me. Not everybody voted for wolves. It was very even in the Front Range which carried the vote was 60/40, not 80/20, you know, and it was 80/20 against for the most part on the east slope and west slope. So there's a lot of work that we need to do and it really all falls under the Parks and Wildlife Commission. That’s not a “woe is me,” that's just the language of the bill. So the Parks and Wildlife Commission is very plugged in. They're going to be very open and listen to people's thoughts, concerns, scientific - not opinion - scientific facts and some facts that are not so scientific but people want to believe that their science because, you know, somebody published them in a one page article that’s not peer reviewed. There's a lot of those discussions to listen to and weigh in on.
KU: When we think about the stakeholders that are currently involved and showing up and really engaged in this process, what are your thoughts and ideas around how do you engage maybe underrepresented or not historically included voices to this conversation? Or perhaps including both traditional sources of ecological knowledge and thinking from our Native American communities and Indian tribes. What is your process for including voices that are not often the most vocal and at the table.?
DP: So we're going to, absolutely. We have already been reaching out to our two sovereign nation tribes here in Colorado and they’re invited to participate in this and it will be an impact to them, and quite frankly again they're the sovereign nation so they get to say what happens on their land. With the other underrepresented groups we do have an eye to diversity, which is not mine to define in this, but there's many different levels of diversity, and we think it's back to the stakeholder process. Even less so the technical advisory group because those are experts in their field, but the stakeholder advisory group, is that we don't represent all of Colorado. You pay now, or pay later. And so we're really trying to be very mindful about adding really as much as we can, every voice in Colorado, and there was discussion on the commission meeting about paying travel expenses or even stipends. And I know when we did the 2004 plan which, by the way, we've dusted that off and we'll bring that forward as many parts that were already on consensus...no reason to reinvent the wheel. If I recall, we paid for travel and expenses for people. I may get paid to do what I'm doing now, not all the hours I'm working, but you know not everybody gets paid to talk about wolves. And so we want to make sure that we provide enough opportunity for all representatives. We also are mindful we can’t have 200 people.
KU: I want to say thank you for joining us this evening.
DP: Absolutely. And it was my pleasure.
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