By Karen Morfitt

DENVER (CBS4) – The debate over wolf reintroduction into western Colorado is heating up, and a discussion about the idea took center stage at the University of Colorado Denver on Wednesday night.

(credit: CBS)

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“I’m not here to lobby anybody to vote any particular way, that’s up to Coloradans. I’m here to share what I understand to be reliable science,” Montana state Sen. Mike Phillips said.

In addition to being a Democrat who represents the Bozeman area of Montana, Phillips is also a wolf advocate and wolf biologist who works with the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, one group pushing for reintroduction in Colorado to be put on the ballot in 2020.

“Coloradans don’t have a recent history with this species, so its easy for some people to imagine the worst,” Phillips said.

(credit: CBS)

His lecture on campus Wednesday night focused on why he believes the gray wolf could help Colorado.

“They can improve the ecological health of a setting, great wolves can help restore Colorado’s natural balance,” he said.

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The point raised questions among those in attendance, both about the impact to other wildlife like elk as well as livestock. Those are concerns the Colorado Farm Bureau says their members have as well.

“Farmers and ranchers, cattlemen and sheep producers, particularly in the western part of the state are significantly concerned about the potential impact on wolves preying on their livestock,” Colorado Farm Bureau spokewoman Shawn Martini said.

Martini says Colorado isn’t like other states where wolf reintroduction has been done, Montana being one of them. Instead, he says our population and lack of vast open space isn’t suitable for the gray wolf, which is why he says state and federal wildlife management teams have already discussed the idea and determined they are against it.

“The proponents are going to come with what they call science. We have existing science and it says it’s not appropriate to reintroduce this species into Colorado,” Martini said.

(credit: CBS)

For Phillips, the hope is his lecture can continue the discussion.

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The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is currently trying to collect enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot in 2020.

Karen Morfitt