Pueblo County commissioners unanimously oppose animal welfare ballot initiative

Sara Wilson
The Pueblo Chieftain

Pueblo County commissioners voted Thursday to oppose a controversial proposed animal welfare ballot initiative, claiming that the potential economic devastation from its implementation would be immeasurable.

Initiative 16, also known as as the Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation (PAUSE) Act, would expand definitions of animal cruelty if passed by Colorado voters in 2022. Specifically, it would change what constitutes sexual abuse and require livestock to live out one-quarter of their natural lifespan before slaughter. It has sparked severe pushback from the ranching community

"These are extremely outrageous proposals," said Commissioner Chris Wiseman, who led the board's decision to oppose the initiative.

Wiseman has decades of experience with the cattle industry, including 18 years at the Colorado State Fair.

"I want to do everything I can to protect this industry. I think this is a short-sighted initiative that takes direct aim at our farmers and ranchers."

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Ranchers and other professionals who work with animals say the PAUSE Act would criminalize common husbandry practices and basic medical care like spaying and neutering.

Wiseman is concerned about the initiative's potential impact not only on livestock, but also on the ability of Colorado Parks and Wildlife to stock the state's lakes with fish, which could affect tourism. Those two industries — agriculture and tourism — "kept this economy going" during the pandemic, he said. 

In order for the initiative to land on the 2022 midterm election ballot, it will have to get 124,632 signatures from registered voters in Colorado. From there, it will be up to the electorate to vote in favor or against it. 

"Everyone in the state of Colorado has a right to put things on the ballot," Wiseman said. "You also have the right not to sign it, so I would just urge everyone not to sign this ballot proposal."

Livestock production is a primary economic driver in Pueblo County. About 60% of agricultural sales in the county in 2017 were from livestock, poultry and related products, according to that year's Census of Agriculture, and 90% of the 895,508 acres of the county's farmland is used for pasture. Statewide, livestock production is part of a $3.4 billion industry with a $40 billion economic impact.

Pueblo is also home to the Colorado State Fair and the associated livestock shows and rodeos. The Professional Bull Riders are also headquartered in town. 

"I just can't believe that people are coming up with things like this," Commissioner Eppie Greigo said. "This is going to destroy the economy. It's going to destroy the livestock and cattle industry, and the jobs."

The Board of County Commissioners came out against Gov. Jared Polis's "Meat Out Day" in March, which was another perceived slight to one of the area's main industries.

"Some of the proposals we've seen lately, most notably this one, are absolutely outrageous and done with complete lack of regard or respect for the agricultural community and its impact that it plays in our state and local economies," Commissioner Garrison Ortiz said.

"At the end of the day, we have to be realistic. We have to exercise common sense. What's being proposed just isn't practical."

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Chieftain reporter Sara Wilson can be reached via email at SWilson@gannett.com or on Twitter: @WilsonSaraJane.