A gray wolf. (Photo provided by Grizzly Creek Films)

An effort to reintroduce the gray wolf to Colorado is closer to being on the ballot, with backers having submitted more than 200,000 signatures.

The proposal would make provisions for adding wolf reintroduction to “designated lands” — those west of the Continental Divide, starting at the end of 2023 — as well as create mechanisms for public input and establish compensation for livestock owners. (See the Colorado Sun’s story, page A13.)

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund submitted the signatures Tuesday and heralded wide support for reintroduction. It is not clear how many signatures came from Western Slope voters.

“We had volunteer signature gatherers out in force on the Western Slope through a good part of August, September, October and November. The number represented Western Slope-wide is definitely in the tens of thousands,” said wolf fund president Rob Edward.

“Based on 25 years of multiple polls, the Western slope versus Front Range support has been rock solid, around 65 percent. We know the Western Slope as a whole supports wolves in the midst.

“That said, we know there are concerns in the livestock industry. I understand the concerns. That is part of the reason for the built-in compensation piece.”

Montrose County officials began pushing back against talk of wolf reintroduction earlier this year.

In March, county commissioners passed a formal resolution against reintroduction, which states returning an apex predator to the state would “adversely affect livestock growers” and outdoor recreation, as well as potentially endanger citizens.

They remain of the same mind, Commissioner Roger Rash said Tuesday.

“It just doesn’t make any sense at all to bring that predator in here. For our farmers and ranchers, it just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Deer and elk population numbers are a concern, too, he said and Rash also said it makes no to sense to bring back another predator to the landscape.

“We’re to the point where we’re too populated for that and there are probably better places. Common sense is we don’t want these types of predators in our backcountry right now,” Rash said.

The gray wolf is a federally protected species that was extirpated in Colorado decades ago. Because the species is federally listed, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has no authority to assume management of wolves if they were to be reintroduced.

The agency does not have a position on the ballot initiated to reintroduce gray wolves and because it is a state agency, cannot take a position for or against such a petition.

Edward said although some might criticize the proposal because it would bring wolves to the Western Slope, even though the concentration of votes is in metro areas on the other side of the Divide, there is broad support.

“We can’t change the demographic reality between those places. But we can continue with our volunteers on the Western Slope, going out and meeting with city councils, county commissioners, Rotary clubs and churches, just talking about the realities that we know from 35 years of having wolves in Yellowstone, Wisconsin and Minnesota,” he said.

Although there are different landscapes, some concerns are the same, Edward also said.

“Because we now have majority support on the Western Slope, it’s not particularly fair to say it is a Front Range versus Western Slope issue, because it’s not. We have support across all demographic groups, except ranchers,” he said.

Edward also said the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund receives money from within the state, not just out of state — and, because roughly 70 percent of lands on the Western Slope are federal public lands, everyone has a stake.

“Maybe it would be more welcomed by our people if they just limited (wolves) to Boulder County, but I don’t think we’ll see that,” Rash joked.

“And they’re not going to stay in designated areas. They roam, they have huge hunting areas. We just think they are going to be very destructive to our cattle business, our sheep business, and especially big game, which we depend on,” he added.

Rash said he is happy the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund and other backers are able to have their say through the petition process. “But definitely, this county doesn’t support it,” he said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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