DENVER (AP) - Wildlife activists want Colorado voters to decide next year if the endangered gray wolf should be reintroduced in the state decades after it was hunted to near-extinction.
Backers of a ballot initiative delivered thousands of voter signatures on Tuesday to the secretary of state's office in hopes of getting their proposal on the 2020 ballot.
Officials have 30 days to determine if enough signatures are valid to qualify the initiative.
The gray wolf has been successfully restored in a number of U.S. states but disappeared in Colorado in the 1940s. Colorado ranchers and other interests strongly oppose the initiative, saying it would threaten livestock.
Rob Edward of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, which is campaigning for the plan, told reporters that Colorado voters would have the opportunity to decide for themselves to restore the wolf, as opposed to restoration efforts in other states directed by federal wildlife! officials.
Edward said the initiative would restore an ecological balance reaching beyond Colorado by complementing wolf repopulation efforts in neighboring Rocky Mountain states such as Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
The initiative would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to reintroduce wolves on public land west of the Continental Divide before 2024.
It also calls for state-administered compensation for ranchers and farmers who lose livestock to wolf predations - and hunting operations affected by the possible loss of elk and moose.
Edward said supporters, including the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, envision a population of some 250 wolves down th! e road after an initial reintroduction of about 10 wolves per year.
An interest group called Stop the Wolf sent a fund-raising email to its supporters lambasting what it calls "ballot box biology" paid for by "rich, out-of-state, wolf extremists." It's collected resolutions from several Colorado counties declaring their opposition to the proposal.
The Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Cattlemen's Association and Colorado Wool Growers' Association have formed another issue committee to fight the initiative.
Gray wolves were native to Colorado but were hunted to near extinction by the 1940s. About 6,000 of the animals live in the Northern Rockies, Pacific Northwest and Western Great Lakes.