There are about 600 lobbyists that work the Colorado Legislature, among which are two full-time lobbyists that focus solely on conservation issues. Among these is Jen Boulton, who has served as the lobbyist for Audubon since 1994, interacting with the 100 elected officials (65 Representatives, 35 Senators) on a daily basis. In fact, Audubon has the longest serving presence of any conservation organization at the Capitol (since late 1970s). Jen’s long-tenure is invaluable given the complexity of the legislative process and the importance of understanding the nuances of the political personalities and issues. Throughout the 2021 session – which began in earnest in February – Jen worked closely with representatives from Audubon chapters across the state and Audubon Rockies, to determine positions on proposed bills and realize outcomes that are good for conservation. Read more about this at the end of Jen’s report.
The legislative session wrapped up on June 8. The session extended well past the scheduled last day due to time off earlier in the session as a result of the pandemic. As usual, Audubon worked on a number of bills across several issue areas. We were very successful this year with significant wins on climate change; funding of parks, open space, and water; environmental justice; and protection of wildlife. Here’s how some of our priority efforts shook out.
Pollinator License Plate Bill:
Passing Colorado’s House and Senate overwhelmingly, House Bill 21-1145 creates a new license plate to fund protection of pollinators. Purchase cost for these plates will go to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Revenue will then transfer the money collected from plate sales to a selected nonprofit organization focused on education and policy to protect and preserve pollinators. The Department will choose the recipient nonprofit based on specific criteria in the bill language.
Thank you to Audubon members for contacting their legislators to show support for this bill, which will ultimately provide needed revenue for programs that protect pollinators, create habitat, and recognize the invaluable role that pollinators play in supporting agriculture and natural ecosystems. We were happy to join with People and Pollinators Action Network to help pass their bill. Starting in (hopefully) early 2022, people will be able to purchase these special license plates and show support for our hard working pollinators!
Keep Colorado Wild Pass:
Colorado is home to 42 state parks, which provide invaluable recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat. Senate Bill 21-249 was brought forth as a means to address the rapid growth in demand for and impacts from outdoor recreation on our state parks and other participating public lands. Proposed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to improve and stabilize funding for state parks and recreation areas, the passage of this bill creates a new point of sale for state park passes by attaching them to annual vehicle registration.
Beginning no earlier than January 2022 and no later than January 2023, when residents go to renew their motor vehicle registration, they will receive an annual State Parks pass for that vehicle. Residents can opt out if they choose, though there is a significant savings by purchasing passes via registration. Passes sold with registrations are expected to be around $25/car – less than half the current cost of an annual pass. For those that opt out, or are visiting from other states, the current passes will remain available. A reduced price pass for those unable to afford the full-price pass or that are currently eligible for assistance programs will also be available. Parks and Wildlife estimates that the new sales plan will increase parks funding by fifty percent or more. The increased revenue will allow CPW to expand services, management, and infrastructure across State Parks properties. Audubon worked with partners and CPW to raise awareness about this bill, including promoting via social media, and supported its passage. You can learn more about this pass by going to the CPW page.
A third important issue for Audubon was actually non-legislative. There was a ballot issue proposed for the 2022 ballot that posed significant risk. Initiative 16, commonly referred to as the PAUSE (Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation) initiative, was a very dangerous proposal that proponents claimed would reduce animal cruelty among livestock. Audubon chose to engage on this issue because the language was so broad and vague that there were enormous unintended consequences.
The initiative changed the minimum age at which livestock could be slaughtered. From a consumer perspective, that would have resulted in much more expensive meat, as no meat produced in Colorado could have been approved by the USDA for anything beyond “commercial” grade. From an environmental/wildlife conservation perspective, requiring livestock to be kept for extended periods before slaughter would increase the number of animals on the land several fold. Requiring ranchers to keep cattle for three additional years, for example, has the potential to cause serious overgrazing: resulting in destruction of habitat; degradation of stream banks; increased sedimentation; and serious ecological damage. The Initiative also changed the definition of bestiality to include any contact with the back end of an animal. This provision was not limited to livestock. It included pets as well. While not directly an environmental issue, we all love our pets, and the initiative would have criminalized a plethora of common veterinary treatments. There were some complicated legal loopholes that MAY have permitted some veterinary procedures to continue, but they would have required court action; and
few veterinarians would want to risk being sued in order to treat an animal.
On June 21, the Supreme Court determined that the initiative violated the single subject rule in the Colorado Constitution. That ruling effectively killed Initiative 16. The proponents, however, can certainly rewrite the initiative and submit it again. Should they do so, Audubon’s stellar Public Policy Committee will revisit the issue. You can learn more about this initiative on the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association webpage.
Advocating for bird-friendly legislation is one of the most impactful ways to help birds and the environment. Here are two ways you can personally make a difference:
Audubon Colorado Council’s Public Policy Committee: This committee needs your help! Additional members are needed who care about birds, protection of their habitat, and are willing/able to be active during the legislative session. This would entail participating in short virtual meetings (via Zoom every two weeks, no travel needed), where members would hear reports from Jen Boulton and work together to identify priorities. If you’re interested, please reach out to your chapter leaders.
Getting Green Laws: This is an easy way to stay informed! For the past several years, early in the Colorado legislative session, Jen has worked with the chapters and Audubon Rockies to develop a free 1.5-hour online training that covers legislative bills being considered and explains how the public can influence their outcome on behalf of birds. Hope to see you at the next Getting Green Laws webinar!
Now, go outside and enjoy everything we fight to protect in this beautiful state!!
And if you took time to speak up on behalf of birds and their habitat this past legislative session, thank you! Our elected officials need to hear from Coloradans who care about natural resources.