Are you smarter about ecosystems than a wildlife specialist with a biology degree and 25 years of experience in the field? How about an entire leadership team with nine science degrees and a combined two hundred years’ worth of professional experience? How about an entire agency of such experts overseen by commissioners appointed by the governor for their varied experience, education, and regional expertise? What are you willing to bet?
Most of us have enough self-awareness to refuse that wager but not a group of activists that is willing to gamble the health and vitality of Colorado’s ecology. These activists believe the average Coloradan knows more about animal management than everyone at Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
The group — named Cats Aren’t Trophies (CATs) — intends to place an initiative to ban hunting of mountain lions and bobcat trapping on the 2024 ballot. If successful, they will circumvent CPW and its commissioners and the Colorado legislature which have rejected similar proposals in the past. This effort will not only harm wildlife; it is emblematic of a defective process for lawmaking.
CPW manages native predator and prey species and invasive species to maintain a healthy ecosystem and to militate against starvation, nature’s way of controlling population growth. The agency does this by offering hunting and fishing permits, the sale of which provide funding for conservation and education programs.
As an apex predator, mountain lions impact prey species and other predators reliant on the same food sources. They are also territorial and will wander into human habitation looking for new territory. If hunters are prohibited from harvesting mountain lions, agency employees or contractors will have to cull the population the same way.
CWP is helmed and staffed by men and women with expertise and experience in wildlife management and is overseen by commissioners with agriculture, outdoor recreation, and conservation experience and interests. By law, rural areas, where the majority of parks and wildlife exist, are represented. Since the governor hires the director and appoints commissioners, the public can influence the direction of the agency by petitioning their elected representative, the governor, or by replacing him or her at the next election. The agency is thus able to maximize the expertise of specialists on a day-to-day basis while remaining accountable to the public.
This balance of public accountability and systems for vetting and execution of public policy is why representative democracy works and why the nation’s founders preferred it to direct democracy. They rejected direct democracy not just because large scale direct voting would have been logistically impossible—only city states had ever successfully done it—but because in a direct democracy a mere majority of voters can more easily seize the reins of government and run roughshod over everyone else. By passing policy ideas “through a medium of a chosen body of citizens,” wrote James Madison in Federalist paper No. 10, policies are tempered and become more “refined and enlarged” beyond narrow factional interests.
Representative democracy isn’t perfect, no human institution is, but public policies produced through it are subject to public hearings, amendment, and at least a modicum of compromise between majority and minority groups. Direct democracy through the initiative process, by contrast, does not require participants consider costs and benefits, amend proposals to mitigate unequal impacts, or require any compromise. A bare majority can simply foist its will on a bare minority.
In 2020, activists bypassed duly elected representatives at the General Assembly and CPW commissioners and convinced 51% of Colorado voters, mainly in urban areas, to reintroduce an apex predator into rural areas where its presence is generally unwelcome. That is not a fair or prudent way to make law. And yet, they’re at it again.
Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer