DENVER — Two groups opposing a Colorado ballot initiative to reintroduce the gray wolf into the state conceded the race Thursday, even though the race is too early to call because thousands of ballots are still uncounted.
Coloradans Protecting Wildlife and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association issued statements saying it appeared that the initiative would succeed. Other opposition groups made no such declaration.
“Nothing is final until the Secretary of State certifies the election results, but at this time, we believe the measure will pass. So yes, this is a concession from our campaign,” said Patrick Pratt, deputy campaign manager for Coloradans Protecting Wildlife.
Janie VanWinkle, president of the cattlemen’s association, said the group “remains committed to ensuring real science” guides wildlife policy and wolf reintroduction.
Colorado’s election results must be certified by Nov. 30. At midday Thursday, the “yes” vote led the “no” vote by roughly 20,000 ballots out of nearly 3 million counted. Voters in metropolitan Denver and Boulder counties, who won’t be directly affected by any reintroduction, strongly supported the initiative, with rural voters voting against it.
Supporters say it’s the first time that voters, rather than government scientists, are deciding whether to reintroduce the wolf, which once ranged across most of the U.S. before being hunted to near-extinction.
Proposition 114 would direct state wildlife officials to develop a plan to reintroduce wolves, once hunted into near-extinction, on public land west of the Continental Divide in Colorado before 2024. Ranchers, business chambers and rural governments strongly opposed the initiative, saying it would threaten livestock and Colorado’s lucrative hunting industry for elk and deer, key prey for the wolf.
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, which sponsored the initiative, said Thursday it believed outstanding votes to be counted in metropolitan areas east of the Divide would produce a formal “Yes” vote.
“This isn’t about the margin of victory,” said Rob Edward, head of the fund’s campaign. “Now it’s time to get on with the hard work of fashioning a future for the wolves that we coexist with.”
Asked if any reintroduction process could trigger litigation, Pratt said: “We have not ruled out any available options at this time.”
The gray wolf has been successfully restored in several U.S. states, including in Idaho and in Yellowstone National Park 25 years ago. Because of government-sponsored hunting, trapping and poisoning, the wolf disappeared in Colorado in the 1940s.
Proponents argue that reintroducing wolves would restore balance to an ecosystem severely altered in their absence by oversized big game herds.
About 6,000 gray wolves live in the Northern Rockies, the Pacific Northwest and the Western Great Lakes regions.
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