With the runoff-swollen Colorado River serving as the backdrop in Glenwood Springs on Saturday afternoon, Gov. Jared Polis signed two bills into law, including one related to the river itself.
“How wonderful it is to see the river so healthy behind us today, but all too often, that’s not the case with changing climate and drought,” Polis said during the ceremony at Two Rivers Park before signing Senate Bill 295, which creates the Colorado River Drought Task Force.
The new task force is charged with meeting over the next several months before the 2024 legislative session to determine Colorado’s water needs as it continues negotiations with the Colorado River Basin users over a dwindling water supply caused by a decades-long drought.
“The task force created by 295 will bring together stakeholders with a cohesive voice, so that Colorado can maintain a very strong, united position in the interstate negotiations,” he said, acknowledging that the Ute tribes are also to be represented on the task force.
Co-sponsoring the bill were Sens. Perry Will, R-New Castle, and Dylan Roberts, D-Avon.
“Every year we’ll pray for rain, or better snowpack, but that doesn’t always work,” Will said. “This is going to be something that we can truly address with this task force and get ahead of the curve.”
Roberts noted that, with the Colorado River providing water for 40 million people across the southwestern states, the stakes are high.
“We know that this river and its tributaries and the communities that it serves are facing immense challenges in the coming years with this ongoing drought that we are experiencing,” Roberts said. “We must face that challenge head-on, and continue being a leader. That’s what this bill is about, is taking responsible, deliberate but necessary steps to determine what Colorado needs to do next in the face of this immense challenge.”
Polis also signed House Bill 1265 during the Saturday stop in Glenwood Springs, creating the “Born to Be Wild” special license plate in conjunction with Colorado’s plan to reintroduce the gray wolf to parts of the Western Slope.
Sales from the plate, at $50 a pop, will establish a fund available to farmers and ranchers to be able utilize non-lethal means to prevent wolf conflicts with livestock and predation.
“With the reintroduction of the gray wolf to its historic range, we want to make sure we support our farmers and ranchers with non-lethal flaggery, range riders, scare devices and guard animals that are already being successfully used in other states that have wolves and have strong ranching sectors,” Polis said.
Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, and Sen. Will were also co-sponsors of the license plate bill.
“Our ranchers and farmers are the keepers of the valuable resources we enjoy … and we want to make sure that (they) have all the tools in their toolbox for non-lethal management of the gray wolf,” Velasco said.
Will said he’s a “big fan” of the license plate measure to provide resources for livestock producers to help with wolf conflict prevention measures. But he did take the opportunity after the signing ceremony to express his disappointment in Gov. Polis’ veto of Senate Bill 256 earlier this week. The bipartisan bill, which Will co-sponsored with Sen. Roberts, would have established a so-called 10j designation under the federal Endangered Species Act, allowing for the lethal taking of wolves when necessary.
“Some people thought 256 was a delay tactic, and it was not,” Will said. “It was just an insurance policy to make sure we had a 10j in place before paws hit the ground.”
Will said he remains hopeful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will enact the 10j rule before wolves are released in Colorado, which is targeted for the end of this year.
That would make the failed state legislation a moot point. In any case, Will said he is skeptical that Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be able to obtain the wolves intended for release by year’s end, as planned.
Polis, in a brief interview with the Post Independent, explained his decision to veto the measure, saying it was unnecessary and would have undermined the voters’ intent in approving wolf reintroduction.
“Our administration’s focus is maximizing the ability for the state, and our farmers and ranchers, to be able to manage conflicts. And that will continue to be our priority,” the governor said, adding the license plate bill provides important resources to help livestock producers with wolf management.
The governor’s stop in Glenwood Springs was part of a day-long Western Slope swing, during which he gave the commencement address at Colorado Mesa University, and signed several other bills in Mesa County, Rifle and Edwards.
Post Independent interim managing editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at email@example.com or at 970-384-9160.