Voters in Colorado have narrowly passed a historic ballot measure to reintroduce gray wolves into the state where the animal was hunted to extinction by the mid-1940s.
Proposition 114 mandates Colorado Parks and Wildlife develop a plan to reintroduce a sustainable population of gray wolves to areas west of the Continental Divide starting no later than December 2023.
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As of Friday, 90 percent of the vote had been counted with 50.5 percent of voters approving the measure and 49.5 percent opposed.
Opponents of prop 114, however, admitted defeat on Thursday as most of the uncounted votes are from urban areas that are in support of reintroducing the animals into the Colorado wild, according to The Denver Post.
The approval marks the first time the decision to reintroduce an animal species has been made at the ballot box and comes just a week after the Trump administration lifted endangered species protections for the gray wolf.
“This is a great victory for wolves coming on the heels of Trump’s illegal action to remove federal protection, and it will help restore the natural balance in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains,” Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement.
“The people of the Colorado have helped turn the page on a brutal chapter of our history that saw wolves exterminated across the West,” Robinson said.
Opponents of the measure, which include cattle ranchers, elk hunters and farmers, argue the gray wolves will pose a direct and serious threat to humans, livestock and other existing wildlife.
“Ranchers in Colorado have been more conservation-minded than anywhere in the country, and when they have challenges of a species like the wolf…It is going to be difficult for us to encourage them to take these proactive conservation efforts in the future,” Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, said to The Denver Post.
In 1869, hunters were paid bounties by the federal government to hunt gray wolves to make way for livestock and the species was eradicated from the state by 1945.
Currently, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states is more than 6,000, with more than 4,000 in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and some 2,000 in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. Before the push to eradicate the animals in the earlier 1900s, the wolves were present in most parts of the U.S.
Conservationists are set to sue the Trump administration for removing the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act following the Department of Interior’s determination that the wolf is no longer a threatened or endangered species.
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