COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Colorado Parks & Wildlife held its first public hearing Thursday on last month's proposed plan to reintroduce gray wolves to the wild.
Public comment began at 11 a.m. as the CPW Commission wrapped up its meting this week at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs.
Nearly 30 people registered to speak for and against the plan, with three minutes allotted for each citizen.
Public feedback, Thursday and in future hearings across the state, will be factored into the plan's final version expected in May; wolf relocation on the Western Slope would start in December.
In November 2020, Colorado voters, by a narrow margin of 51% to 49%, approved Proposition 114 to establish a wolf reintroduction plan -- one that includes compensation to ranchers and other private landowners who may lose livestock to wolves.
One commissioner said that compensation for a lost animal was increased from $5,000 to $8,000 because of inflation, but other commissioners believe the higher amount wouldn't fully repay their losses.
"I'm a rancher and I don't think I could recover from losses," said Commissioner Dallas May. "We have to be able to put livestock owners back into a state that they were in before they had the losses. And that's the only way we have a chance to have a successful reintroduction program that assures the safety of the wolves, and assures that the animals and producers can keep providing habitat."
Patrick Sullivan spoke during public comment and said that he voted against the measure because it's being forced on people who live in counties strongly opposed to it.
"(It's) policy voting by people who don't have to face the outcomes of the legislation," he said. "Please reconsider the proposed locations for reintroduction of wolves. I would like CPW to further evaluate relocating wolves to areas that favored wolf reintroduction."
This week's meeting was the commission's first session in Colorado Springs since 2014.
Prior to the public hearing, the commission heard from a stakeholder group of activists on both sides of the issue.
Among those stakeholders is Jenny Burbey, a rancher and hunter who is president of the Colorado Outfitters Association and expressed concern about possible negative impacts of reintroduction affecting the hunting and ranching industry.
"When we're not really addressing the game issues and wildlife issues, and therefore the funding issues for this agency and the small businesses that will suffer... that hurts," she said.
The first draft of the plan calls for reintroducing up to 15 wolves annually for between three and five years, with a goal of establishing a self-sustaining population of from 150 to 200 wolves.
"Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho... we looked at those states, had those experts come on early in the process to provide their experience of how the process went in their states, what they saw and what we can incorporate into our process to make it go smoothly," said CPW spokesman Travis Duncan.
According to CPW, a pack of six wolves has lived in Jackson County, in northern Colorado, since migrating from Wyoming in 2019 -- leading some citizens to wonder why CPW describes the plan as a reintroduction.
Among other concerns about the plan are: Whether wolves can be hunted as a game species; whether more than 200 wolves are needed to sustain the population and improve its status as an endangered species; does CPW have the necessary resources to properly manage and enforce the plan; will landowners be allowed to shoot wolves in defense of livestock; and determining the protocol for using lethal or non-lethal methods on wolves.
The public comment period ends Feb. 22; for more details, visit: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Wolves/DRAFT-CO-Wolf-Plan.pdf.