Polis vetoes bill requiring federal designation for wolf restoration

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis vetoed legislation requiring a designation from the U.S. Department of Interior to restore gray wolves, but will continue working to achieve the compliance.

Senate Bill 23-256 would have prohibited the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission from restoring gray wolves until it receives a federal Section 10(j) designation under the Endangered Species Act. The designation would mean the animals as a non-essential experimental population, defined as not needing protection for the continued existence of the species, according to a definition of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

In his veto letter on Tuesday, Polis said he was supportive of the state pursuing the reintroduction of the wolves under the federal rule. However, Polis said the legislation isn’t necessary when considering Colorado voters approved Proposition 114 in 2020 to restore the wolf population to the state.

“SB23-256, however is unnecessary and undermines the voters’ intent and the hard work of the Parks and Wildlife Commission … and the ongoing collaborative work with our federal partners, and could actually interfere with successfully receiving experimental population designation, which is the purported purpose of the bill,” Polis wrote.

Polis also wrote the bill would have “impeded the coordination that has been underway for two years” with the USFWS and state agencies that included $1 million to complete the 10(j) rule and a draft environmental impact statement.

Polis also wrote a letter to Dan Gibbs, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, on Tuesday, stating he would continue to work with the USFWS and CPW “in taking all steps possible to obtain a 10(j) rule prior to the release of gray wolves in Colorado.”

The House sent the bill to the Senate by a 41-22 vote on May 3. The Senate passed the bill by a 35-0 margin to send the legislation to Polis on May 4.

“Disappointed to have the Governor veto our bill!” Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta and one of the sponsors of the bill, posted on social media. “SB 256 was the insurance policy to ensure wolves are not reintroduced without the ... 10(j) rule to allow for protection of livestock and pet animals through physical or lethal means.”

The veto was praised by Colorado’s branch of the Humane Society of the United States.

“SB23-256 could have significantly delayed wolf restoration to Colorado,” Aubyn Royall, Colorado State Director of the Humane Society, said in a statement. “In vetoing this harmful bill, Governor Polis upheld the will of the voters. While it is disappointing that this bill made it through the Colorado General Assembly and to the Governor’s desk, we are relieved that the wolf restoration process can continue without undue delay.”

Last month, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee approved a plan to delist gray wolves.

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