*********** PRESS RELEASE ***********
March 16, 2021
On Tuesday March 16, 2021, the Rio Blanco County Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to reaffirm the county's opposition to wolf reintroduction to become a Wolf Reintroduction Sanctuary County. Rio Blanco County is the first in the State to adopt a Wolf Reintroduction Sanctuary Resolution since Proposition 114 passed on November 3, 2020.
Through the resolution, the commissioners stated the county would allow for the natural migration and repopulation of Gray Wolves, but would not allow for artificially introduced wolves. Further stating that “designated lands” for artificial reintroduction must not include Rio Blanco County or any other County in the State that adopts the Sanctuary County Resolution.
Proposition 114 narrowly passed in the statewide election; however, of the 64 counties in the state only 13 received an affirmative vote. There were only 5 counties on the western slope which voters approved the proposition. Under the Rio Blanco County Resolution, these would be considered to be designated lands by the terms defined by the ballot measure. Those counties include Pitkin, Summit, San Miguel, San Juan and La Plata County.
Under Proposition 114, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is tasked with getting wolves on the ground by December 2023 on lands west of the Continental Divide. Rio Blanco County Commissioners have urged the CPW Commission to take the necessary time to make this program as effective as possible for the citizens of the areas that will be impacted.
During a work session on March 9, 2021, local resident and former Colorado Division of Wildlife Biologist, Jeff Madison, presented to the Board the idea of Rio Blanco County becoming a Wolf Reintroduction Sanctuary County. This idea was met with great enthusiasm from the Board of County Commissioners. Locally, Rio Blanco County residents voted 3,164 against and 439 in favor of Proposition 114.
Among the top concerns from the County is the significant economic impact from the Wolf Reintroduction. The County is already facing depressed county revenues due to regulations on the fossil fuel industry. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Rio Blanco County maintains a 18.8 million dollar agriculture industry from cattle, sheep and hay production. The Northwest Region of Colorado, including Rio Blanco County, reports the largest amount of outdoor recreation in the state spending at $10.3 billion according to The 2017 Economic Contributions of Outdoor Recreation in Colorado.
While the reintroduction plan would allow for “fair compensation” of livestock losses due to wolf predation, for other states, notably Idaho, in practical application this has proven to be difficult or even unattainable for livestock producers. Furthermore there is no existing plan to account for losses to the big game hunting industry.
The Board of County Commissioners felt strongly that the resolution is not an attempt to go against the will of the people; however, view this as an opportunity to uphold the wishes of their constituents. Board Chairman, Gary Moyer, encouraged other western slope counties to take similar steps earlier stating “we are more alike than we are different. Right now it feels like a war is being waged on rural Colorado, and they are coming at us from every direction. However, we are also stronger together, and it will be hard to ignore us if we are working together.”