Lukens, Roberts confident wolf bill requiring 10(j) rule will pass. Will Gov. Polis sign it?
The lawmakers are less confident it will get the governor's signature and it would likely be too late to override a veto.
Western Slope lawmakers behind a bill that would prevent wolves from being reintroduced until the state secures a federal rule allowing greater management tactics are confident it will pass the legislature later this week.
Whether Gov. Jared Polis will sign the bill remains to be seen.
Senate Bill 256 would prevent wolves from being reintroduced without what is called a 10(j) rule from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The rule designates Colorado wolves an experimental population and would allow for many of the management tactics outlined in the draft wolf reintroduction plan. The Colorado Park and Wildlife Commission will consider that plan for approval at its meeting in Glenwood Springs later this week.
Two of the bill’s prime sponsors, Sen. Dylan Roberts of Avon and Rep. Meghan Lukens of Steamboat Springs say they are confident the bill will pass the legislature. It already passed the Senate in a 22-6 vote and will be considered on second reading in the House on Monday. But the bill will also need Gov. Polis’ signature.
“I’m confident about that bill passing the house,” Roberts told The Yampa Valley Bugle on Thursday. “We are less confident that the governor will sign it.”
“I am in regular conversation with the governor’s office to ensure we have the 10(j) rule prior to paws on the ground,” Lukens said on Sunday. “It’s important that through all of these conversations, the bill that we land on is still meaningful to the intent and goal.”
In response to questions from The Bugle over the weekend, Gov. Polis’ office did not indicate whether or not he would veto the bill, but did say he is supportive of Parks and Wildlife obtaining the 10(j) rule.
“CPW and U.S. Fish and Wildlife are working diligently to ensure that Colorado receives a 10(j) in mid-December 2023, which would give Colorado the maximum amount of flexibility in managing healthy wolf populations,” said a spokesperson for Polis in an email on Sunday. “Gov. Polis will continue to work with federal partners to pursue a 10(j) to maximize state flexibility in wolf management.”
CPW officials have said they are on track to get the rule by Dec. 15, which leaves just 16 days to reintroduce wolves before the voter-approved 2020 ballot measure says paws need to be on the ground. If the agency does not have the rule in hand before the end of the year and this bill doesn’t become law, it appears wolves would still be introduced.
While the bill was before the House Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources committee on Monday, April 24, Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs spoke in opposition of the legislation.
“[Federal partners with the Fish and Wildlife Service] have assured me they’re on track,” Gibbs said. “Given that we’re on track and have done everything possible for the state to ensure that the 10(j) is in place on time, we believe Senate Bill 256 is a solution in search of a problem.”
The preferred outcome of the National Environmental Policy Act process currently underway is obtaining the 10(j) rule for all wolves in Colorado, but that is not a sure thing. There is a no-action alternative where wolves are reintroduced without a 10(j), which would prevent lethal take provisions in the wolf reintroduction plan from going into effect. Another alternative would grant the 10(j), but define a more limited area where it would be in effect.
When lawmakers questioned Gibbs about what would happen if the 10(j) is not in place and if the agency would still reintroduce wolves, Gibbs did not give a clear yes or no answer. In his response, Gibbs noted that the ballot measure did not include any language about obtaining the federal rule and the agency is focused on fulfilling the will of the voters.
“It’s not necessarily a yes or no,” Gibbs said. “We are working so hard to make this happen. … It has not been easy but [CPW officials] have been just doing a heroic effort, to say the least, to make sure we’re getting this done because the voters told us we have to get this done.”
Lukens noted the bill is supported by legislators on both sides of the aisle across the Western Slope, which is where wolves will be reintroduced. The bill also includes Republican prime sponsors Rep. Matt Soper and Sen. Perry Will. Reintroduction became a top issue in Lukens' race for the House last year, with Lukens repeatedly saying she did not support bringing wolves back to Colorado.
Both Lukens and Roberts said the flexibility that the 10(j) would offer was vital to the success of reintroduction and ranchers ability to protect their livestock.
“Ranchers should have the ability to stop [wolves attacking livestock] through lethal means if needed,” Roberts said. “Any activity like that without a 10(j) would be a federal felony and I don’t think we need to be putting people in federal prison for just protecting their property.”
The vote in the Senate was strong enough to override a veto, should Polis not provide his signature. The House will vote on the measure later this week. Even if there was a level of support in the House to override a veto, Roberts said the session is likely to end before lawmakers would be able to take that step.
“If we are not in session by the time he vetoes it, which is likely at this point, then we wouldn’t be able to call a vote to overturn the veto,” Roberts said.
Debate on the bill is expected in the house on Monday during second reading. It would then be considered on third reading as soon as Tuesday.