CSU partners with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to study wolf reintroduction stakeholder engagement process

gray wolf in the spring

This announcement was written by Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff, with contributions from CSU.
Photo: Eric Kilby/Flickr

Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado State University are partnering on a research study about the public and stakeholder engagement process associated with wolf reintroduction in the state. The research will be funded by a RAPID National Science Foundation (NSF) grant from the Decision, Risk and Management Sciences Directorate. RAPID is a term used by NSF to describe research projects that require a rapid response.

Colorado citizens voted Proposition 114 into statute in 2020. The initiative directs the CPW Commission to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado no later than December 31, 2023. Based on public feedback and CPW’s expertise in developing wildlife management plans, the agency is moving forward with a strategic, phased approach that will enable stakeholder engagement and public involvement throughout the planning process for wolf reintroduction efforts.
This marks the first time voters have decided to reintroduce wolves in the U.S., providing an unprecedented opportunity for CPW and CSU researchers to analyze and evaluate the impacts of the public and stakeholder engagement processes on wolf restoration efforts.

Public feedback is important

“Research suggests that stakeholder engagement can enhance decision-making about impassioned natural resource management issues,” said CPW’s Human Dimensions Specialist and Researcher Mike Quartuch, who is a co-principal investigator for this project. “Our agency sees great value in listening to public feedback as we work to shape the wolf management plan for Colorado, and we want to examine if our processes are effective. This study will help us identify areas of success and any challenges we encounter. We look forward to collaborating with our research partners at CSU and studying how engaging the public in policy planning initiatives can lead to more well-rounded solutions and engaged communities.”

Wolf reintroduction is a complex issue that elicits different emotional responses from the public. Some stakeholder groups support wolf reintroduction due to cultural connections to wolves and the perceived benefits that wolves can provide to ecosystems. Other stakeholder groups oppose reintroduction due to the perceived negative impacts of wolves on livestock, hunting opportunities and the safety of people and pets. 

Advisory group to inform wolf reintroduction and management plan

CPW has convened a Stakeholder Advisory Group representing a broad range of interests in summer 2021 to inform the development of Colorado’s wolf reintroduction and management plan. The agency hired a third-party facilitator, Keystone Policy Center, to run the advisory group as well as broader public engagement efforts. These efforts include public meetings and other forums to collect public input, as well as sharing key takeaways from the advisory group process. The stakeholder engagement process is defined by bringing stakeholders together through facilitated, open dialogue to enhance understanding about different perspectives and to build empathy and learning, which can then lead to the development of co-created solutions that incorporate diverse values.

This study is a collaborative research effort between CPW and CSU that will serve as an opportunity to examine CPW’s advisory group processes and how to improve them over time. This study is not part of the wolf reintroduction planning process or connected to the public involvement process for gray wolf reintroduction efforts led by the Keystone Policy Center
Research about the stakeholder engagement process will be collected through interviews and surveys of stakeholders and members of the public. The research will assess outcomes for involved stakeholders and examine whether, and to what degree, information flows from the advisory process to other stakeholders and the general public, and whether this leads to improved social outcomes. Examples of social outcomes could include trust, acceptance of management plans, learning and conflict reduction. 

CSU helped educate public on ballot initiative

CSU researchers and CSU Extension teamed up in 2020 to produce and publish educational materials on the possibility of wolf restoration in Colorado. Researchers from CSU’s Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence – including Assistant Professor Rebecca Niemiec – engaged with the public and stakeholders during meetings and webinars and took part in numerous national and local media interviews. Niemiec is a principal investigator for this new project, a scientist in CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and also co-director of the Center for Human Carnivore Coexistence.

“While most social science research points to the potential value of stakeholder and public engagement processes, few studies have tracked how these processes impact social outcomes over time, particularly related to species reintroductions,” said Niemiec. “We hope our results can inform researchers and practitioners throughout the world as they consider whether and how to engage stakeholders in the development of management plans.” 

For more information about wolf management in Colorado, visit 
cpw.state.co.us/Wolves-Stay-Informed or https://www.wolfengagementco.org/

To learn more about CSU’s research and educational materials on wolf restoration, visit https://source.colostate.edu/colorado-state-university-unveils-educational-resources-on-potential-restoration-of-wolves-in-colorado/