Rio Blanco passes resolution to block ’artificially introduced wolves’

Rio Blanco commissioners passed the resolution Tuesday, becoming the first county to do so in Colorado

Rio Blanco County fired the first salvo in the growing battle with the reintroduction of wolves Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday, 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 Nov. 3.

Previously, Moffat County was one of the first counties to oppose the reintroduction of wolves in Moffat County in early 2020. However, Rio Blanco becomes the first county in the state to make a move towards blocking the reintroduction of wolves within the county.

Through the resolution, Rio Blanco 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, just 13 received an affirmative vote. Additionally, just five counties on the Western Slope approved the proposition.

Under the Rio Blanco County Resolution, the five counties who approved the proposition (Pitkin, Summit, San Miguel, San Juan and La Plata Counties) would be considered to be designated lands by the terms defined by the ballot measure.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, under Proposition 114, is tasked with reintroducing wolves into Colorado by December 2023 on lands west of the Continental Divide. Commissioners in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, through the backing of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, previously 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, Rio Blanco resident and former Colorado Division of Wildlife Biologist Jeff Madison presented to the Rio Blanco’s commissioners the idea of Rio Blanco becoming a Wolf Reintroduction Sanctuary County, which was met with great enthusiasm by commissioners.

Among the top concerns from the county is the significant economic impact from the wolf reintroduction. Rio blanco is already facing depressed county revenues due to regulations on the fossil fuel industry.

The Northwest Region of Colorado, including Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, 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. Additionally, there is no existing plan to account for losses to the big game hunting industry.

Board Chairman Gary Moyer encouraged other Western Slope counties to take similar steps.

“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,” Moyer said. “However, we are also stronger together, and it will be hard to ignore us if we are working together.”

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