DENVER — Colorado voters could soon be asked whether they want to bring wolves back to the state.
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund announced Tuesday that it submitted more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State in hopes of placing the restoration of wolves on the 2020 state ballot.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates that reintroducing wolves would cost the state nearly $5.7 million over the next eight years, records show.
The issue is expected to be heavily debated before 2020, with farmers and ranchers on the Western slope concerned about livestock. The proposal calls for an unknown number of wolves to be introduced on the Western slope.
Opponents argue the bulk of Colorado voters live on the Front Range and would have little to no interaction with the wolves.
"That's the feeling of many of our members," said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president with the Colorado Cattleman's Association. "They're not the population center of the state."
Fankhauser said he's also concerned with how political the issue has become, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of out-of-state money now involved.
Records show the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, which is spearheading the campaign, has raised $614,177.02 as of Oct. 15.
The majority of that money has come from out-of-state donors, including a staggering $263,649 from a California group called the Tides Center.
"It's really not the Colorado way, if you will, to re-introduce wolves in a political fashion," Fankhauser said.
But supporters say national attention and support is critical to re-establish a Rocky Mountain pathway from Canada to Mexico, which wolves traversed until the 1940s.
"Native species like the gray wolf are essential to the native balance of species, species interactions and ecosystem health," said Joanna Lambert, Ph.D.
Lambert, a professor of environmental studies at University of Colorado Boulder, said wolves would have a healthy impact on the Colorado ecosystem.
"This will restore the balance to western Colorado by restoring wolves," Lambert said.