The Anti-Wolf Conspiracy Inside Colorado’s Wildlife Bureaucracy

Gray wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

J.T. Romatzke, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Regional Manager for northwest Colorado, has been caught red-handed conspiring with anti-wildlife lobbyists to undermine the state Parks and Wildlife Commission. Its scandalous and improper, and Romatzke should have been immediately relieved of his position. Instead, even after substantiating the allegations, the state government stood by Romatzke and then retaliated against Randy Hampton, the courageous whistleblower who brought Romatzke’s misdeeds to light. Hampton bravely risked his own career and retirement pay to correct a serious ethical breach, and was repaid with a coverup and getting thrown under the bus.

Governor Polis, Colorado has got a problem.

Last week, I reviewed recordings of CPW meetings and official documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a watchdog group is dedicated to exposing corruption within state and federal land and wildlife agencies. The documentation provides irrefutable proof that Romatzke conspired with an anti-wolf lobby group to undermine and oppose CPW commissioners.

The evidence is clear and unambiguous. On one Playrecording, Romatzke says, “This is not that dissimilar to my idea about going back to the last six-eight months of Commission meetings and pullin’ out compilations of, of [Commissioners] Tutchton and Adams, as an example, and, you know, pushing that out on Facebook and other media sites, to be like, ‘Let me introduce to you your local commissioners,’ you know. It blows stuff up. But you know, as Randy clearly pointed out, like for us to do that, we’d get our a**es kicked. Which is why I’ve got a, you know, an outside group doing just that right now. But, you know, don’t share that with anybody.”

Instead of apologizing, the Denver Post quoted an email from an unrepentant Romatzke stating that his “integrity and professionalism is intact” and he plans to “face the future with positivity and regain credibility.”

Romatzke had recruited the Associated Governments of Northern Colorado as the outside group to make the video hit-piece. This secretive lobbying group made up of Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco, and Moffatt Counties raised objections to the Polis administration allegedly fast-tracking wolf reintroduction, asserted a “significant economic impact wolves will have on our wildlife and ag producers,” and pressed for county governments to become central decision makers in Colorado wolf management.

For decades, conservationists have suspected an anti-environmental mafia in northwest Colorado has penetrated state and federal land and wildlife agencies, and has been peddling influence in order to stymie conservation. Now we have proof.

It’s all about wolves, and exposes a long-held culture problem within CPW, which has been working to stall and undermine the long-overdue reintroduction of wolves to Colorado. The reintroduction is now state law, thanks to Proposition 114, approved by Colorado voters last November.

This disturbing episode opens up broader questions. In 2020, CPW reported that a pack of wolves had returned to Romatzke’s Northwest Colorado region. Despite agency monitoring, the wolves seem to have vanished, and CPW is suddenly silent on their whereabouts. What happened to the wolves? Was there foul-play? And what role, if any, has Romatzke played in all of this?

There are multiple, credible reports that at least 3 wolves were shot out of that pack in the spring of 2020, without any public notification of this fact by CPW.  But the agency has been unwilling to open up and report the details of these killings.

The brazen nature of this Romatzke-led conspiracy against two commissioners and the governor himself, including the fact that he discussed it openly with numerous other CPW employees and enlisted their active assistance, underscores the fact that the very culture of wildlife management within the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department is corrupt. The agency treated the incident as business-as-usual: Romatzke got a three-month paid vacation, then returned to his original position of authority. This was not an isolated incident involving a single bad actor, but instead part of a systemic problem within CPW. The investigation’s outcome, returning Romatzke to power and retaliating against the whistleblower by requiring him to report to Romatzke as his direct supervisor, or resign from his job, sends a clear message to state employees that Romatzke’s actions are not just tolerated but officially sanctioned, and that employees who report unethical behavior can expect to face persecution.

How far does this cancer go? Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Dan Prenzlow may not have personally approved of Romatzke’s actions, but he is responsible for all the employees under his supervision. Do the problems reach higher, into the state Department of Natural Resources? Who gave the orders to reinstate Romatzke and then place Hampton back under his charge? This scandal provides an opportunity to clean up longstanding problems in the agency and ensure the employees are acting in the interests of wildlife and habitats.

The Romatzke scandal is a stain on Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but also an opportunity to clean up problems in the agency and ensure that in the future its employees faithfully carry out the laws of the state and act in the interests of wildlife and habitats.

Governor Polis, this is a moment that calls for your leadership.

Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist and is the Laramie, Wyoming-based Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife on western public lands.

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