Coloradoans Protecting Wildlife, a group that opposed the wolf measure, argued the close outcome showed the public remains divided on wolves — and the issue should never have been determined at the ballot box.
“[T]he forced introduction of wolves into Colorado is bad policy and should not have been decided by the voters,” the group said in a statement. “The election results demonstrate that nearly half of Coloradoans agree with us. We hope these election results show proponents, lawmakers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife that next steps must be taken in a measured, responsible way.”
The ballot measure instructs the state wildlife agency to come up with a plan to reintroduce wolves by 2023, after officials spent years blocking similar efforts. Backers of the measure say that wolves play an important role in the ecosystem, and state wildlife officials were too beholden to livestock and hunting interests to bring them back without a public mandate.
The vote was far from the landslide that some advocates projected, cutting into the narrative of widespread statewide support for the predators. Results showed a strong urban-rural divide — as predicted by wolf opponents — with counties that voted for President Trump mostly registering strong objection to wolf reintroduction.
Edward said the pandemic prevented wolf backers from running a traditional campaign and connecting with rural voters at county fairs and other venues. He also said the opponents outspent supporters 2 to 1 over the last six weeks of the campaign.
“There will always be work to do to help people coexist with wolves,” he said. “The fact is that we wouldn’t be having this conversation today if it weren’t for a significant portion of the people in Western Colorado voting in favor of wolves.”
Wolf reintroduction will face many more complications in the days ahead, as Endangered Species Act protections will probably be the subject of ongoing court battles and state lawmakers and officials work through various agreements needed to complete the plan.
Even before the vote, wildlife advocates said it was unlikely to start a trend. They said efforts would be better focused on reforming state wildlife agencies to focus on creating healthy ecosystems instead of serving consumptive industries. Many such agencies are led by commissions with heavy representation from livestock and hunting interests.
Stateline is an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.