Colorado Senate Confirms Animal Rights Advocates to Wildlife Commission

Colorado Senate Confirms Animal Rights Advocates to Wildlife Commission

The Colorado State Senate voted today to confirm two new wildlife commissioners who both have backgrounds in animal rights and animal welfare.

In July of last year, Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced the appointment of Jess Beaulieu of Denver, John (Jack) Murphy of Aurora, and Gary Skiba of Durango to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission for terms that expire on July 1, 2027.

The appointees were criticized at the time as having anti-hunting biases, and a coalition of outdoor groups–including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the National Wild Turkey Federation–questioned their “lack of qualifications” and “apparent biases.”

“At the heart of our objection is the lack of qualifications of the proposed appointees for the roles they are being nominated for, their apparent biases, and our broader concerns regarding governance, transparency, and the future path of the CPW,” the coalition wrote in a letter opposing the nominations.

Despite the concerns of outdoor and conservation groups, the Colorado State Senate voted 19-15 to approve Bealieu and 23-11 to approve Murphy.

"It is extremely disheartening to see the Colorado state senate capitulating to the governor’s personal agenda despite widespread disapproval of his nominees," said MeatEater's Brody Henderson. "Not only are these people outspoken anti-hunting animal rights activists, they are both completely unqualified to oversee a state management agency. Governor Polis has made it clear he wants to seize control of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The result will be a crippling blow science based wildlife management."

In a silver lining and a victory for hunters, the vote on Skiba’s nomination was delayed until May 9, after the legislative session is over. Skiba had been nominated as a sportsmen's representative, but withdrew his nomination late last week after serious pushback from the outdoor community.

Jess Bealieu, New CPW Commission on Outdoor Recreation and Parks

Jess Bealieu was appointed to serve as a representative of outdoor recreation and parks utilization. She manages the Animal Law Program at the University of Denver’s Strum College of Law and was a fellow at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmentalist and animal rights group.

Bealieu said during her testimony at a senate committee hearing that she is not anti-hunting, but she admitted that she does not meet any of the statutory qualifications for being a wildlife commissioner except “park user.” However, when asked the number of annual park passes she has purchased, she said she’d never purchased any.

Her past statements on animal law and animal welfare have also raised eyebrows. On a podcast appearance in 2023, she said during a discussion of animal welfare that she is “particularly interested in the treatment of wildlife.” She also emphasized the need to focus on individual animals rather than populations.

“We have to be able to focus on the experience of individual animals and their narratives, and the cruelty and exploitation they experience every second of every day,” she said. “Because we do tend to focus on general populations or the health of a group versus what’s going on in this individual animal’s life. And I feel that’s a powerful story that we need to get out there.”

Two of the ten goals of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department are to “increase big game populations” and “improve wildlife populations.” None mention protecting individual animals.

Senator Janice Marchman spoke on the floor of the Senate in favor of Bealieu’s appointment, arguing that she’s already been serving on the commission since her appointment and that removing her from her seat would take one of only three women off the board.

Senator Dylan Roberts, a Democrat who voted against Bealieu’s appointment in a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, pushed back. He argued that Bealieu lacked the necessary qualifications, lacked prior experience, and was not supported by outdoor recreation groups.

“I have met with this nominee several times, in person, one on one. She is an impressive person, she has an impressive resume, she’s doing good work at the University of Denver law school protecting animals. But she is not qualified for this position,” he told his colleagues.

Ultimately, only four Democrats joined 11 Republicans in voting against Bealieu’s appointment, which was not enough to overcome the 19 votes in favor.

John (Jack) Murphy, New CPW Commission on Outdoor Recreation and Parks

While debate over Bealieu’s appointment lasted well over an hour, there was no discussion of Murphy’s appointment.

Murphy was the only appointee to be recommended by the Senate Agriculture Committee. However, 11 Colorado senators still voted against his appointment, and his qualifications and background make him a strange choice for someone to represent “outdoor recreation and parks” on the Commission.

Murphy co-founded Urban Wildlife Rescue, which provides “humane solutions” to wildlife conflicts, wildlife education, and wildlife rehabilitation. He has also served on the Colorado Nongame Conservation and Wildlife Restoration board and the board of Colorado Animal Protectors.

The coalition of outdoor groups mentioned above also did not find Murphy’s qualifications sufficient for confirmation.

“The nominees' lack of broad recreational management experience, demonstrated objections towards holistic science-based wildlife management and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, and limited engagement and experience with the relationship between private land management, are of significant concern,” the coalition said.

Defeated: Gary Skiba, Sportspersons Representative

Skiba was nominated along with Bealieu and Murphy, but his nomination vote was laid over until Thursday, May 9, which is after the session is over. This was done because he withdrew his nomination late last week after receiving opposition from outdoor interests and Colorado senators.

Gary Skiba was appointed to serve on the commission as a representative of “sportspersons.” He has claimed to be a longtime hunter and angler, and he worked as a wildlife biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife for over 23 years, where he focused on threatened and endangered species management.

He says he “knows the people and the culture of rural Colorado,” according to a profile published in Summit Daily. He claims to respect private property rights while promoting public access and stewardship, and he values hunting and fishing as essential tools for wildlife conservation.

But he has also held positions with the La Plata County Humane Society, and he is currently the Wildlife Program Manager for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a Durango based environmental advocacy organization.

In that role, he regularly advocates for wolf reintroduction in Colorado, an initiative opposed by many hunters in the state. He called for CPW to “move efficiently to implement the will of the voters” in putting wolves on the landscape and push the agency to complete the first round of reintroduction before the required deadline.

In an April 2022 appearance on the podcast “The Wolf Connection,” Skiba claimed that wolves manage their own population and said he opposes wolf hunting in Colorado.

“There is no biological reason to hunt wolves recreationally. You do not manage a wolf population through hunting unless your goal is to eliminate them, which is what they’re doing in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming,” he said. “The only reason you want to hunt a wolf is because you want to kill a wolf.”

What’s Next?

It’s safe to say that wildlife management in Colorado has taken a chaotic, controversial turn. Wolves were finally shipped into the state earlier this year with plans to import more in the coming years. Coloradans will also be voting on a ballot initiative to effectively ban mountain lion hunting in the state.

Senator Roberts pointed out during his floor testimony that these and other decisions have broken the trust between the general public and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission. These new appointments, especially Bealieu’s, aren’t helping.

“The CPW is hurting right now. For a variety of reasons, folks in our state are distrustful of leadership within CPW because of decisions that have been made,” he said. “Appointing the right people to this commission is a way to win back that trust. And if you don’t think this lack of trust is damaging to the future of our state or puts out state conservation goals, wildlife management, and other things that make Colorado, Colorado, in jeopardy, I ask you to please rethink that.”

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