Hunting groups quit Colorado Outdoor Partnership
DENVER, Colorado––A fiery exchange of words between aging free-range cattle rancher Rufus Ryker and homesteader Joe Starrett in the 1953 classic western film Shane almost summarized the culture war currently raging over Colorado wildlife management, even though neither wolves nor diversity, equity, and inclusion were ever mentioned.
Indeed, both Ryker and Starrett were white male landowners. Neither seemed especially sensitive toward the disenfranchisement of Native Americans that preceded their own arrival.
Neither, most likely, would have had much tolerance for wolves, pumas, grizzly bears, or other predators.
But Ryker and Starrett had starkly different views about land management, law and order, history, and what was fair and square.
“Men who did the work & ran the risks have no rights?”
Raged Ryker, “Look, Starrett, when I come to this country, you weren’t much older than your boy there. We had rough times, me and other men that are mostly dead now. I got a bad shoulder yet from a Cheyenne arrowhead. We made this country. Found it and we made it. With blood and empty bellies.
“The cattle we brought in were hazed off by Indians and rustlers. They don’t bother you much anymore because we handled ’em. We made a safe range out of this. Some of us died doin’ it but we made it.
“And then people move in who’ve never had to rawhide it through the old days. They fence off my range, and fence me off from water. Some of ’em like you plow ditches, take out irrigation water. And so the creek runs dry sometimes and I’ve got to move my stock because of it. And you say we have no right to the range. The men that did the work and ran the risks have no rights? I take you for a fair man, Starrett.”
“You didn’t find this country”
Responded Starrett, “I’m not belittlin’ what you and the others did. At the same time, you didn’t find this country. There was trappers here and Indian traders long before you showed up and they tamed this country more than you did.”
Growled Ryker, “They weren’t ranchers.”
“You talk about rights,” roared Starrett. “You think you’ve got the right to say that nobody else has got any.”
That dialogue, scripted 70 years ago and set in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, just before it became a national park, played out in a starkly different form on November 4, 2020.
Proposition 114, mandating reintroduction of wolves to Colorado, was defeated in every rural county, yet won passage by a narrow 50.9% margin, thanks to overwhelming support from urban voters.
Howling for wolves
Far from being ignorant about wildlife and habitat, as “Ryker” Coloradans often assert, urban Coloradans are among the most involved in wildlife-watching and other nature-based recreation of any in the U.S., frequently spending as much time outdoors as rural counterparts who nominally work “on the land,” but spend most of their time in buildings and vehicles.
The “Starrett” Coloradans just have a different view of who “owns” nature and for whose benefit nature should be managed.
“Ryker” faction resigns
Representing the “Ryker” faction, the Colorado Outfitters Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Coloradans for Responsible Wildlife Management have sought ever since the passage of Proposition 114 to delay wolf reintroduction by hook or by crook, in hopes of eventually reversing the reintroduction mandate.
The three pro-hunting and anti-wolf reintroduction organizations, failing to get their way and losing former key strategic allies within Colorado wildlife management, in mid-February 2023 jointly resigned from the Colorado Outdoor Partnership.
“The Colorado Outdoor Partnership was formed in 2016 by Colorado Parks & Wildlife and then overhauled in 2020 by Governor Jared Polis, as a vehicle to ‘meet conservation and recreation challenges head-on through thoughtful planning, strategic investment, and engagement with regional and state-level partnerships,’” explained Jason Blevins, author of “The Outsider” column for the Colorado Sun, on February 17, 2023.
“The Village People”
Polis happens to be the first openly gay governor of Colorado, a probable unspoken factor in the conflict, much of which is between macho, macho men who carry guns and wear cowboy hats like the gay cabaret ensemble “The Village People,” and people in Gore-Tex outdoor gear who go to gyms, if not necessarily the YMCA, and might more likely be part of the audience.
Charged the Colorado Outfitters Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Coloradans for Responsible Wildlife Management in their joint resignation letter, “Concerns surrounding wildlife and habitat have been increasingly underrepresented, not responded to, and often ignored. And our efforts to revitalize the conversations have not been taken seriously.”
“Diversity, equity, inclusion & wolves”
Fumed Dan Gates, who formerly headed the Colorado Wildlife Council, and represented both Coloradans for Responsible Wildlife Management and the Colorado Trapper & Predator Hunters Association in the Colorado Outdoor Partnership, to Blevins:
“If it’s not recreation, it’s DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion.] And if it’s not DEI, it’s wolves. And there is nothing else. There’s no room for any conversations around wildlife and habitat management. Nothing can be done for wildlife and habitat because there are all these other distractions on this landscape. It’s so frustrating for the sportsmen community.”
What Gates seems to not understand is that recreation is the economic engine funding wildlife conservation, that the so-called “sportsmen community” are no less engaging in recreation than mountain bikers, birders, and snowboarders, that “diversity, equity and inclusion” are factors integrally involved in wildlife and habitat management even if long ignored by the “good old boys” traditionally heading the relevant agencies, and accommodating wolf reintroduction, by mandate of the voters, is the current top priority for Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
Respecting “diversity, equity and inclusion” will necessarily mean transitions in other Colorado Parks & Wildlife priorities.
For instance, in view that the approximately 50% of the population who are female provide around 80% of the donations and volunteer hours to humane societies, and constitute only about a tenth of the hunting population, it is very likely that hunting and trapping will be de-emphasized in long-term planning, in favor of such concerns as keeping park facilities clean and in good repair.
Men of racial and ethnic minorities also tend to hunt much less than Caucasians, but may be as much or even more interested in wildlife and landscape photography. Improved accessibility to wildlife habitat may be of much more concern to photographers than to hunters.
Scary times for those used to having their way
It is also possible, perhaps even likely, than members of racial and ethnic minorities may be much more sensitive to stereotyping and “speciesism” directed at animals such as wolves.
But until “diversity, equity and inclusion” are accomplished, no one can actually know what the outcome might be.
The certainty of change, plus uncertainty about what change may look like, is a scary combination to factions used to having their way.
“Gates, Jenny Burbey with the Colorado Outfitters Association, and Luke Wiedel from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation,” wrote Blevins, “explained that volunteers ‘are no longer comfortable serving’ after the Colorado Department of Natural Resources last year investigated allegations that Gates displayed racist behavior. The investigation yielded no evidence supporting the claims.”
But what volunteers? People who look like “The Village People,” or who look like the audience, or people of color, in particular, who have yet to be recruited to have a part in wildlife and habitat management?
And what was the alleged racist behavior?
Blevins himself described it in his column of November 1, 2022.
“Dan Prenzlow is retiring from Colorado Parks & Wildlife following his suspension after a black employee complained about offensive remarks he made during a conference awards ceremony,” Blevins wrote.
What was said?
Prenzlow, Blevins mentioned, was “a 36-year Colorado Parks & Wildlife employee of the agency whose father Ed was deputy director of the then-state Division of Wildlife in the 1980s.
“Alease ‘Aloe’ Lee,” an African-American woman, “was the organizer of Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s annual ‘Partners in the Outdoors’ conference,” Blevins continued, “when Prenzlow tried to thank her for her contributions, reportedly saying ‘There she is, in the back of the bus, Aloe!’”
That was on April 19, 2022.
Apology not accepted
Prenzlow apologized to Lee later that evening, Blevins said, and apologized again by email both to Lee and other conference attendees, but Lee was not mollified.
Three days later, Lee asked Governor Polis, in writing, to fire Prenzlow, saying she was “traumatized, exhausted, disappointed and extremely uncomfortable after this horrific experience.”
Recounted Blevins, “She also urged the governor to fire Dan Gates.”
Regardless of Prenzlow’s actions, which appear have been a perhaps alcohol-fueled crude attempt at humor, and taking note of Gates’ allegation that the Colorado Outdoor Partnership paid excessive attention to “diversity, equity and inclusion,” Lee’s response to Gates nonetheless may have been rooted in misunderstanding.
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you are on the menu.”
According to Blevins, “Gates likes to wear a hat that reads ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, you are on the menu.’ That’s an old adage commonly repeated by politicians—like Ann Richards and Elizabeth Warren—urging more people to participate in policy discussions.
“Gates has worn that hat at wildlife conferences for many years,” Blevins said. “Lee, in her letter to Polis and Gibbs, called the hat a sign of his ‘blatant hatred and unwelcoming demeanor.’
“Lee told investigators, ‘This man is walking around with a racist hat and we’re sitting here talking about policies.’”
Thomas E. Perez
Searching NewspaperArchive.com, ANIMALS 24-7 found no example of either former Texas governor Ann Richards or Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren using the phrase, but the first documented use of it was in a 2016 speech by Thomas E. Perez, who was initially assistant secretary for civil rights and later U.S. labor secretary under President Barack Obama.
“Discrimination is not a national defense strategy!” Perez said. “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.”
The context, as reported by Jenna Portnoy of the Washington Post, was denouncing so-called “right to work” laws in effect mostly in southern states that undercut collective bargaining by workers in jobs held chiefly by members of racial minorities.
Ballroom named “Sundown”
One might theorize that if “diversity, equity and inclusion” had been clearly respected by the “Ryker” faction within the Colorado Outdoor Partnership, Lee and other participants of color might have been more inclined to ask questions first and shoot later when encountering apparent insensitivity.
However, as Blevins noted, “Racial tensions were high during the annual conference with about 600 attendees.
“Some were irked that a ballroom in the Hythe Hotel was named ‘Sundown,’ which is the label given to white-only municipalities or towns that were unfriendly to black travelers as recently as the 1960s. (It’s also the name of a back bowl at the Vail ski area.) Others complained that some panel sessions did not include people of color.
“A keynote speaker heaped praise on Theodore Roosevelt and downplayed the role of black and indigenous communities.”
Very likely, had the speakers’ list been adequately diverse, no one would have worried about the name of the ballroom.
Lee meanwhile overstepped policy for Colorado government employees by rejecting Prenzlow’s apology in an email to all conference attendees, telling him to “stop using black women to clean up your white mess” and saying “I do pray you shove your bullshit apology so far up your ass that it hits the hatred and racism where your soul used to be.”
Colorado Department of Natural Resources executive director Dan Gibbs placed both Prenzlow and Lee on leave, pending investigation of the incident by outside legal counsel.
Eventually, according to Blevins, “The state paid Lee a year’s salary, $75,634, as part of a settlement where she agreed to withdraw a discrimination complaint she filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The state paid Prenzlow $50,000 for ‘emotional distress,’ wages, and attorney fees as part of a settlement” that included his resignation.
“Gibbs himself is under investigation by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission,” Blevins detailed, “following a December 2021 complaint alleging ethics violations when he awarded a $496,000 contract to the Keystone Policy Center to conduct outreach on wolf reintroduction issues. Gibbs’ wife, Johanna Gibbs, was an employee of the policy center when the contract was awarded in April 2021.”
Gates still doesn’t get it
The Partners in the Outdoors conference series has been discontinued.
Gates, meanwhile, remains in denial of what he did not understand, or apparently make much effort to understand.
Said Blevins, “Investigators who interviewed people who attended the Partners in the Outdoors Conference in April found one witness who told them Gates said he is “tired of people who take up social equality issues at any chance they can.”
Confirmed Gates to Blevins, “It’s not that I don’t care about diversity, equity, and inclusion, because I do. But also I really care about wildlife and conservation and habitat.
“Building barriers to the issues that matter”
“We are building barriers to the issues that matter,” Gates insisted, “and no matter what I do or what I say, it all goes back to racial issues and racial justice. What does that have to do with herd management and recreational damage to habitat?
“We are going to have fewer people having these critical conversations,” Gates contended, “because everything will go back to something that is not even being discussed.”
If Gates understood the relationship between racial issues and racial justice and attitudes toward herd management and recreational damage to habitat, he might still have a place at the table.
Hunters put themselves on the menu
Instead, he and the Colorado Outfitters Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Coloradans for Responsible Wildlife Management have put themselves on the political menu, along with the cattle and elk they hope to protect from wolves, to be sold to slaughter or shot by hunters.
“You’ve lived too long. Your kind of days are over,” the film hero Shane told Ryker.
Exploded Ryker, “My days! What about yours, gunfighter?”
Responded Shane, “The difference is, I know it.”