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A watchful gray wolf. After being hunted out last century, the gray wolf is being reintroduced to Colorado. Image courtesy of freehdw.com

Record of decision and final environmental impact statement on Colorado gray wolf 10(j) rule released ahead of schedule, kicking off next steps and timeline for expected 10(j) approval

On Friday, nearly three weeks ahead of schedule, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the availability of the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and draft record of the decision to establish an experimental population of gray wolves in Colorado under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act.

Once finalized, this action will provide Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) with increased management flexibility, which is expected to increase the likelihood of overall gray wolf restoration success. The 10(j) rule is now expected to be in place in Colorado more than a month before the statutory deadline of releasing gray wolves by December 31, 2023.

U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper applauded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s final environmental impact statement and draft decision to create more flexibility for gray wolf management under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act.

“We need to continue listening to the people who will be affected most when determining how to responsibly reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado,” said Hickenlooper. “It’s great to see Fish and Wildlife heed our call for flexible management.”

Once finalized, this will provide the state with the management capabilities that Hickenlooper has been calling for. In the EIS, the USFWS selected Alternative 1, which will provide the management flexibility afforded by 10(j) throughout the entirety of the state of Colorado.

“This demonstrates a sincere and effective commitment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to accomplish this task on a very accelerated timeline,” said CPW Director Jeff Davis. “National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) work typically takes 2 – 3 years and it was accomplished in a little over a year-and-a-half. CPW leadership is very thankful to the demonstrated commitment and partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Photo image behind the Colorado Parks and Wildlife logo courtesy of Rio Blanco Herald Times

Timeline and Next Steps

Now that the rule has been published, a 30-day cooling period will occur, followed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s finalization of the rule. It is anticipated that the 10(j) rule will go into effect after an additional 30-day period, well before capture and release operations begin.

There is no public comment period open at this time, as the public comment for this rule has already occurred.

The publishing of the 10(j) earlier than anticipated does not necessarily translate to an earlier capture operation to reintroduce gray wolves. CPW will wait until capture conditions are ideal to begin capture operations, but the first reintroduction is still anticipated to occur prior to the December 31, 2023, statutory deadline.

Hickenlooper has repeatedly called on USFWS to embrace flexible management capabilities for the ranching community. In 2021, Hickenlooper sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and USFWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams requesting a Section 10 designation to improve state and stakeholder management capabilities.

He also submitted a formal public comment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, encouraging the agency to allow more flexible management of the gray wolf through Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act.