The Colorado Springs Gazette final

Squashing comment on CPW transparency

Rachel Gabel is a longtime agriculture writer and the assistant editor of The Fence Post Magazine.

Cory Gaines is a member of the Northeastern Junior College faculty and makes his home in rural Colorado. He’s not from agriculture, but he has an interest in it and his efforts to learn more are laudable. It’s not an easy task in a state where the ag industry is as diverse as in Colorado.

He is a periodic contributor to the opinion pages of various publications and runs the social media and Substack site, Colorado Accountability Project. He frequently offers logical, sound public comments on various bills and public board discussions. Last week he made time to offer public comment to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission regarding the wolf release that has garnered a fair share of criticism from stakeholders and commission members themselves.

I reported in The Fence Post Magazine that Gaines told the Commission he had serious concerns about the message sent to those affected and to taxpayers about how little transparency there appeared to be during the releases.

“Besides comments like those of Mr. Gibbs, the process has not at all been transparent,” he said. “To my knowledge, no information was released ahead of time about where these wolves were sourced, and they were released in a carefully controlled media event with reporters who were chosen and no outside photo or video.”

He said no local or state leadership or residents were notified, though “the First Gentleman did get a ringside seat.” He said this appeared to make it a photo opportunity for the governor, while others “didn’t get a whole lot.”

He said once Gov. Jared Polis moves on, CPW and the stakeholders in the area will still be dealing with wolves.

Chairman Dallas May asked him to keep the comments to the subject at hand rather than personal attacks by “mentioning certain individuals who had ringside seats.” Gaines sounded surprised and asked the chair for clarification at which point Chair May cut Gaines off. Cut him off as in hung up the call. Bye, Felicia. All of this, mind you, during his public comments about transparency. The irony is not wasted on me.

Gaines, who has said he has no intention of letting this squashing of the public comment process go quietly by the wayside, contacted his senator who directed him to the Department of Natural Resources’ legislative liaison. Gaines also reached out to the commission’s administrative contact and Dan Gibbs, executive director of DNR. He has requested clarification of the rules set forth for commissioners as well as the rules he broke that resulted in him being cut off. Gaines hasn’t received a response as of press time.

His point, which he was attempting to make while making no rude or personal attacks against either the Governor or the First Gentleman, was that those in public office come and go but agencies like CPW are here for the duration. The ranchers, many four and five generations deep, are here for the duration. The wolves are here for the duration. Long after the photo op is over and long after the black Suburbans speed back to Denver, the people on the landscape and CPW still must cooperate and trust each other at least to some extent.

The less transparent CPW leadership is, the faster, as Commissioner Marie Haskett pointed out, the gates to private lands will be locked to CPW. The less transparent CPW leadership is to their field staff, who are also a part of these communities, the more relationships will be eroded.

Commissioner Gary Skiba wasn’t buying the criticism of the release and said, “The idea that there was disrespect shown to rural communities…i really sort of push back a little on the idea that there was a lack of respect there.”

Skiba and the two other newly appointed commissioners will face the Senate Agriculture Committee in the coming weeks, and I anticipate that comment may come back to haunt him as the committee decides whether to recommend him and his counterparts for confirmation.

One of the bright spots to present itself into the transparency discussion is a bill introduced by West Slope legislators Sen. Dylan Roberts, Sen. Perry Will, Rep. Barbara Mclachlan, and Rep. Marc Catlin that would require members of the CPW Commission appointed by the governor to host two public engagement meetings in their geographic districts. I’m enthusiastically in support of this to ensure that appointed members of the CPW Commission and other similar groups, including the Agriculture Commission, come before and hear from those they are tasked with representing. After all, I’m told it was Louis Brandeis who said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”





The Gazette, Colorado Springs