Some say Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is putting pressure to change wolf plan: What we know
As Colorado Parks and Wildlife works through the final phases of the state's wolf recovery plan, some have claimed Gov. Jared Polis is putting undue pressure on commission members and advisory members in an effort to work his personal views into the plan.
The draft wolf recovery plan is going through a series of public hearings around the state, including one in Rifle on Tuesday. The plan is the culmination of 18 months of intense wolf recovery meetings all while migrating wolves have killed cattle in northern Colorado, further gnawing at raw nerves as the state prepares for its voter-directed wolf reintroduction.
The state-selected Stakeholders Advisory Group, made up of people with differing wolf views, and Technical Working Group, made up of wolf professionals from around the West, worked to hammer out details of the draft recovery plan.
The tenuous relationship between competing interests on the advisory group has endured through that process. But the strands have begun to fray during a critical time as Colorado Parks and Wildlife feels the pressure of finalizing the plan in time to reintroduce the carnivore by the end of this year.
That was evident recently when advisory group members for the first time publicly accused Polis and state Department of Natural Resources leaders of attempting to influence governor-appointed Colorado Wildlife Commission members into changes the Democratic governor wants in the draft plan. That accused influence involves wanting the plan to require more wolves to be established before delisting the animal from protected status, reducing lethal control and eliminating the possibility of hunting wolves.
Others don't see it that way and countered the advisory group was stacked with pro-ranching and pro-hunting members. They say that resulted in a plan that is tilted more toward allowing the killing of wolves instead of allowing the predator to establish its numbers in the state.
Earlier this month:Colorado wildlife officials capture, collar 2 wolves in Jackson County's North Park area
Some claim Polis needs to back off, others say he's just doing his job as Colorado preps wolf reintroduction plan
The latest round of tension related to the plan began publicly on Jan. 25, when an op-ed written by advisory group member John Howard, who is also the former chair of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, published in Colorado Politics.
In that piece, Howard alleged the level of political interference currently taking place is unprecedented in his 40 years of conservation work, including as a Democratic member of the commission.
"We (SAG) faced relentless political interference from the Polis administration as they pushed their desired outcome," he wrote. "As they pressed their thumb on the scale, I witnessed the morale of my former colleagues at CPW (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) collapse as science was pushed aside and replaced with ideology.''
Howard told the Coloradoan he only heard from the Department of Natural Resources once in his four-plus years on the commission ending in 2019. It was regarding wolves, but the message was commissioners should vote their conscience.
"That's not what's going on now," he said. "When I talk to commissioners, they are telling me when up for appointment or reappointment they need to commit to the way the governor wants them to vote.''
Adam Gall is an advisory group member and outfitter on the Western Slope and formerly a wolf biologist involved with recovery of wolves for the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho.
He warned commissioners at a public wolf draft plan meeting Jan. 25 in Gunnison that "pressure received from individuals or offices" should not alter the current plan, which he said represents common ground forged among varying interests and allows the state agency to do its job and for wolves to recover.
“At the end of day, they (commissioners) are not at or shouldn’t be at the beck and call of the governor, but to do right by the wildlife resource," Gall told the Coloradoan. "You meddle with this stuff and you create failure and distrust within the social fabric. Trust is what makes this work, and the plan has to work for everybody as best it can or the fabric gets thin real quickly.''
Fellow advisory group members Matt Barnes and Gary Skiba took issue with Howard's piece and wrote an op-ed rebuttal to Howard's in Colorado Politics that appeared Feb. 3.
Barnes, a range scientist and wildlife conservationists who supports wolf introduction, told the Coloradoan it should be expected the governor and natural resources leadership would have some input on the plan.
"I don't know where the rub is because I can say there was no interference by the governor or DNR executive director that I know about," he said. "I don't think the governor should be writing the plan, but if you have oversight of it, you should have some influence.''
Current Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission Chair Carrie Hauser also denied such pressure has been applied.
In an email response to the Coloradoan, she pointed out the governor’s office is represented on the commission by Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs — an ex officio, non-voting member of the commission and Stakeholders Advisory Group — and as such Gibbs participated in the advisory group's discussions and voiced the governor’s priorities insofar as wolf restoration is concerned.
"The Stakeholder Advisory Group met on numerous occasions from June 2021 through August 2022," Hauser wrote. "At no point during that time did I receive information suggesting the SAG was being improperly influenced."
A statement from the governor's office to the Coloradoan in response to questions regarding accusations made about Polis' influence on the plan and changes he would like implemented read in part: "Governor Polis supports CPW’s ongoing work to develop a quality plan, including its extensive efforts to solicit and incorporate feedback from the public prior to finalizing that plan as long as it’s consistent with the law. Whenever the voters or the legislature enact a law, the Governor takes very seriously his responsibility to successfully implement it.''
Marvin McDaniel, the commission chair until his term expired and Hauser replaced him in July 2022, told the Coloradoan he felt pressure from Polis and believes he was not reappointed by the governor because of an exchange he had with him at a Jan. 13, 2021, commission meeting. That was two months after Proposition 114 to reintroduce wolves was narrowly passed by Colorado voters.
McDaniel said at that meeting, Polis pressed to "put paws on the ground" within a year after the vote. McDaniel said he told the governor the ballot measure called for a thorough planning process and that he wasn't sure it could be done in three years.
"He was pushing Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the commission to move faster, and that wasn't right because there was a lot of science to go through," McDaniel said. "Frankly, after that I knew that was the end of my appointment."
Polis was quoted in several news articles expressing his desire for an expedited reintroduction in that meeting.
Previous coverage:Here's where Colorado's reintroduced wolves are most likely to be released
Colorado draft wolf recovery plan public meetings
Here are the remaining public meetings:
Feb. 16: 5:30-8:30 p.m. virtual Zoom meeting
Feb. 22: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Denver
Visit https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/Submit-Public-Comments.aspx to see how to view the meetings.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Colorado wolves: Some say Polis is putting pressure on to change plan