Colorado Adds 3 Animal Rights Professionals to Its Wildlife Commission

Three new appointees to Colorado’s state wildlife commission have backgrounds in animal-welfare communities
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New wildlife commissioners in Colorado have backgrounds in animal welfare. John Hafner

Colorado Governor Jared Polis last week appointed three new members to the state’s Parks & Wildlife Commission that have common experience in various aspects of animal welfare, if not grounding in traditional wildlife management.

One of the new commissioners, Jess Beaulieu, is the manager of the Animal Law Program at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. Another, John “Jack” Murphy, runs a nuisance-animal response company in Denver’s suburbs that stresses the non-lethal removal of raccoons, foxes, squirrels, and skunks. And the third, retired state wildlife biologist Gary Skiba of Durango, recently served as director of the La Plata County Humane Society.

At least two of the three appointments have raised the eyebrows of some agency-watchers, who observe that Beaulieu and Murphy have little grounding in a core competency of Colorado’s Department of Parks and Wildlife: traditional wildlife management. However, Skiba worked for the state’s Division of Wildlife, now called Colorado Parks and Wildlife, for 24 years and has been active in wildlife issues and advocacy in southwestern Colorado. Beaulieu and Murphy will represent “parks utilization and outdoor recreation” interests, while Skiba will represent the interests of sportspersons, according to the CPW press release.

The appointment of Colorado commissioners who represent animal welfare constituencies aligns with a similar shift in Washington State’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, which has a majority of what might be called “mutualists,” members who de-emphasize traditional hunting and angling in favor of using predators to manage ungulate populations, among other core values. The Washington commission is mulling a policy change that runs counter to many of the established tenants of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, in which hunters and anglers pay much of the cost of science-based resource management.

Ultimately, hunters aren’t really necessary to manage wildlife, Kevin Bixby told Outdoor Life last year. Bixby is the executive director of Wildlife For All, a New Mexico-based group that’s pushing for state wildlife reform, with roots in animal-rights, rewilding, and deep ecology campaigns. Bixby says predators should be considered the primary wildlife management tool by agencies, which should adopt values consistent with the animal-rights movement.

“If we want to save our own species, then we have to adopt an attitude of coexistence with all the other species,” says Bixby. “And we can’t do that if human needs are placed above other lifeforms. That is the bottom line. Some people will never agree to that.”

That philosophy will likely meet pushback in Colorado, which has the country’s largest elk population and most accessible elk hunting opportunities. Colorado plans to reintroduce wolves by the end of this year. 

Read Next: How Many Wolves Should There Be in Colorado?

“I think many of us support a whole-ecosystem approach,” says a Colorado hunter who didn’t want their name to be used because they hope to develop a working relationship with the new commissioners. “But I question how a shift in perspective to all-species conservation would be funded. Would it divert [money from] hunting and fishing licenses to management of animals that can never be fished or hunted? I’d have some heartburn with that.”

Colorado’s Parks & Wildlife Commission is scheduled to next meet Aug. 24-25 in Steamboat Springs.