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DENVER (KDVR) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers is looking to put limits on wolf reintroduction in Colorado. Wildlife advocates say it could delay the process by six years or more.

State legislators introduced the bill last week. It would prohibit wolf reintroduction in Colorado until two conditions are met under federal law: certain wolf management rules are finalized and an environmental impact study is complete.

Gray wolves are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, but Colorado is in charge of reintroduction in the state. Because of this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of designating Colorado’s wolves as a “nonessential experimental population,” which the bill’s authors say would give the state “greater flexibility to manage the wolves” once reintroduced.

That rule-making process is expected to be complete by the end of the year. That’s also around when wolf reintroduction is scheduled to begin.

Wolf reintroduction rules could see legal challenges

But the proposed law requires that the rules be final. Any legal challenges would hold it up, and wildlife advocates say that could bring “frivolous lawsuits” and several years before reintroduction begins.

“If this bill became law, wolf restoration — which Coloradans voted for — wouldn’t happen until 2029 at the very earliest,” Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement. The rules in question “have a statute of limitations of six years. So a lawsuit could be filed in 2029, which would delay wolf reintroductions to almost a decade from now.”

The bill’s authors say wolf releases are set for state or private land, but they argue that wolf mobility means they will also likely end up on federal land, too. That’s why they say an impact analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 is also necessary.

Environmental groups see the effort as a delay tactic.

“We worked hard to address the concerns of livestock producers, hunters, wolf advocates, and outfitters, and to have that effort undercut by groups not involved in the process is discouraging,” said Gary Skiba, wildlife program manager for San Juan Citizens Alliance and member of the stakeholder advisory group.

Wolf reintroduction bill advancing in committee

Senate Bill 23-256 passed the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on a 5-2 vote and was sent to the Appropriations Committee.

Bill sponsors include Sen. Perry Will and Rep. Matt Soper, both Western Slope Republicans, along with Sen. Dylan Roberts and Rep. Meghan Lukens, Democrats who represent several north-central mountain counties.

Voters passed Proposition 114 in November 2020, which mandates that the state reintroduce the gray wolf in Colorado.

Wolf reintroduction has not begun, but it’s set scheduled to begin at the end of the year. While Colorado has seen wolf encounters in recent years, state wildlife officials say those wolves migrated to the state naturally.