Peak & Prairie
December 1999 / January 2000
Wildlife Facing Tough Times Under Governor Owens’ Appointees
by Mike Smith, RMC Wildlife Chair
It’s hard not to assume that our wildlife is in for a tough time when one of Governor Owens’ new appointees to the Colorado Wildlife Commission votes to scuttle the Division of Wildlife’s so-far-successful lynx reintroduction program, is quoted at that same Commission meeting making the absurd claim that “mule deer are almost extinct,” goes on to denounce a recent Trout Unlimited press release about the risks of whirling disease as “a terrorist tactic,” and, along the way, is repeatedly heard to say “just wait until next year,” presumably doing some gloating-in-advance over the time when Owens appointees will have a 5-3 majority on this important Commission.
This coming year, most of the major issues affecting our wildlife will be politically driven, either by the Owens administration though some so far less-than-spectacular appointments to the Wildlife Commission, by the Legislature, or by special interests—the livestock, hunting, and outfitting industries—all attempting to maximize their influence and control over the Wildlife Commission and the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW). Both the Denver Post and Grand Junction Sentinel have already warned about the special-interest bias of Owens’ three recent Commission appointments. We hope that Governor Owens will heed these warnings with his two new appointments in early 2000.
Besides appointing new Wildlife Commissioners, the Owens administration has identified several wildlife-specific legislative priorities for the 2000 session, which runs January-May. The two most visible of these are as follows:
Endangered species: HB99-1229 severely limited the ability of the DOW to collaborate with federal agencies to recover federally threatened and endangered species in Colorado. Governor Owens originally promised to veto 1229, but instead reversed field and signed it into law after the Columbine massacre and the subsequent defeat of all the 1999 session bills loosening restrictions on guns. This year, the Owens administration has said it wants to change the provisions of 1229 so as to restrict DOW recovery work only on large predators (wolves and grizzly bears).
Predator control: SB96-167 gave “exclusive jurisdiction” over a long list of predator species to the Commissioner of Agriculture and, in so doing, provoked sufficient public outrage to pass a 1996 initiative restricting trapping. This coming year, the Owens administration wants to delete the word “exclusive,” and return predator control to a shared jurisdiction between the Department of Agriculture and the DOW. While this sounds like an improvement, there is great danger that with this shared jurisdiction will come legislative requirements for the DOW to begin “control” killings of bear and lions and also increase the number of hunting licenses it issues for these species. All this will be marketed as a means to increase mule deer populations, even though the DOW and most wildlife biologists agree that reducing predator populations either to increase other wildlife populations or to decrease livestock damage is usually ineffective, prohibitively expensive, and at odds with the general public’s desire for responsible wildlife management.
We also expect renewed attempts by special interests to derail the lynx reintroduction program, further gut the 1996 trapping initiative, divert additional monies from the DOW’s declining budget to fund private, pro-hunting advertising campaigns, and generally wreak havoc with Colorado’s wildlife and habitat.
If you’d like to help the Rocky Mountain Chapter on these and other wildlife issues, please let us hear from you. Call the Chapter Office 303-861-8819, or Mike Smith, RMC Wildlife Chair, 303-530-2646.
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