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 recording, 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 Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit conservation group working to protect and restore wildlife and watersheds throughout the American West. WWP was one of 71 conservation organizations that endorsed the reintroduction of wolves to Colorado in August 2020.

 
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Erik Molvar

32 Responses to Romatzke scandal illustrates need for Gov. Polis to clean house

  1. avatar Kevin Bixby says:

    Excellent piece. One thing: I disagree with Erik’s assertion that “it’s all about wolves.” I think this scandal demonstrates the lengths to which hunting and ag interests, and their allies in state agencies, will to go to protect their hegemony in wildlife governance more broadly, not just as it pertains to wolves. Tuchton, Adams and Hampton were all seen as threats to their privileged status.

  2. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Wow. Not surprised though. Thank you, Mr. Hampton, from the bottom of my heart.

    You can only imagine what goes on in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. These things need to be taken to the mat.

  3. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Can they be compelled by a court of law to produce any information about the wolf killings?

    • avatar Maggie Frazier says:

      There apparently was much propaganda scattered about regarding re-introducing wolves – one opinion letter printed in the news there suggested wolves could be carrying coronavirus or bubonic plague? Could have come from China – really? This sounds like the scare tactics we have all heard of from the naysayers of other subjects. Once viewed “in the news” – these tactics do influence people who are naive enough to believe it without doing any investigation to prove or disprove it. We have already seen enough of that for the past several years!

  4. avatar WM says:

    Facts are important. The so called “anti-wildlife” lobbying group referred to in the article is an association of the local governments -county, cities and towns in NorthWEST Colorado. So the reference is wrong to begin with.

    Second, the organization is made up of ELECTED OFFICIALS of 5 different counties, and the cities and towns within. Councils of Governments or Associations of Governments (same thing) often collectively comment and take stands on all kinds of issues against the state of Colorado. They have for over 40 years. They are a creature of the state. As for lobbying, cities, towns and counties do it all the time. This is no sinister organization, but may well be reflective of the combined values of the folks living in those 5 counties affected by state government decisions an governor appointed officials – including CPW commissioners. It is all political.

    And, I can guarantee Governor Polis has heard from this association or council of governments, just as he hears from other councils of governments like the one representing the urban Denver area (called DRCOG).

    As for this incident involving a regional CPW manager, more facts are needed. However, it appears the dust has settled and the guy kept his job. Gotta wonder if the whistleblower didn’t have his own political agenda to push. Seems to be the case after the investigation was complete. Scandal or just government as usual?

    • avatar FB says:

      You ignored the recording. That’s pretty damning. Most CPW employees now have no desire to work with Romatzke. He’s full of bs and they all know it.

    • avatar J Hardy says:

      I don’t think it’s appropriate to suggest Hampton had ulterior motives, especially in a post advocating that ‘facts matter.’

      Point well taken about the composition of AGNC, but I don’t understand the impulse to suggest Hampton had an agenda. He’d been a career employee and anti-wolf reintroduction. What did he have to gain by blowing the whistle and risking his career? He and Romatzke had a good relationship, prior to this.

      • avatar WM says:

        Hampton was a PR guy. He didn’t seem so much a “career” employee as a wayward soul, having done something like 6 years as a “hypnotist” then returning to CWP. As for his motives, who knows? I thought it was appropriate to raise the issue as a question, in what appears to be a hit piece by Eric.

        As for listening to the recording, it does not seem so damning, especially if taken out of context. Do, I think it was not appropriate for a Division senior manager to make – absolutely, but not worthy of firing him. I understand what the locals were calling for is an open public process to lay the ground work for the reintroduction as required by the narrowly passing citizen initiative, which is now CO law.

        • avatar WM says:

          Edit: “…taken IN CONTEXT..”

          And whistleblower Hampton had a recourse if he believed there had been retaliation, but I guess he just quit after being given other employment options.

          Did he timely file a complaint with the Colorado Board of Personnel or just decide to go political with PEER?

          https://spb.colorado.gov/whistleblower-claims

          One last point, Western CO is much different than the largely urbanized Range along Interstate- 25 especially from Colorado Springs in the south to the WY line in the north. Urbanized voters are much different than folks trying to make a living ranching west of the Continental Divide, where wolves will likely be in greater numbers than where the Front Range meets the plains east of I-25. But the closer you get to Nebraska I bet those folks aren’t too excited about wolf reintroductions either. And, let’s not forget this initiative was mostly funded with out of state money, and in state opposition didn’t have the big budget to counter. It passed by something like 3 or 4 percent margin. Not exactly a strong endorsement. And, I give it 10 years after reintroduction, wolves numbers will be managed in CO as well.

          • avatar Nancy says:

            “Urbanized voters are much different than folks trying to make a living ranching west of the Continental Divide, where wolves will likely be in greater numbers than where the Front Range meets the plains east of I-25”

            I haven’t heard nor seen (or heard any rumblings from local ranchers) when it comes to wolves in my neck of the woods for the past 2 years WM and you kind of know where I live in Southwest Montana.

            So it begs the question – are wolf populations already getting hammered by local/out of state hunters and local trappers (in recent years) without the necessary “New Rules” some politicians are itching to put into place in my state, for a few (see my link to Public Comment/Reader Wildlife Generated News re: Montana’s new hunting seasons on wolves)

            And how much money (taxpayer money?) has been spent annually… FOR DECADES??? Trying to bring the wolf’s little cousin – Wiley Coyote – under control (poisoning, trapping, shooting, etc. because they are listed as a “varmint” They also get run down with ATV’s & snowmobiles, in western states (and coyotes have yet to give up. Lots of research on that) but all wildlife pays the ultimate price for our stupidity?

            Just to satisfy a really small percentage of livestock raisers and hunters out here in the west, who’ve either had it too easy when it comes to predators (who once roamed the landscape and kept everything in check) and forgot what wilderness use to look like before all those government agencies, put in place, started “cow” towing to their whims.

            So yeah, after 30 years in the same spot, in what’s left of a wilderness area in Montana, WM, I will say, the human species needs to start paying attention to the destruction we are causing, in what’s left of wildness areas, due to our overwhelming need to populate, and ignorance.

            Putting it into perspective:

            • avatar Immer Treue says:

              Add to this, Wyoming’s draconian wolf policies, wolves would have naturally colonized Colorado long ago.

            • avatar WM says:

              Nancy, Colorado has about 2.8 million cows, and likely as many sheep. I don’t know the geographic distribution for where they are bred and grown. But, they do get processed mostly in Northern Colorado at what used to the largest facility in North America, once owned by the Monfort family, now by ConAgra, I think. My guess is that still those cattle and sheep largely are on the Western Slope (of the Continental Divide) until shipped to market and grain fed for finishing. Livestock is the largest agricultural sector in Colorado. So, don’t expect the beef/sheep industries to go down easily, with a high tolerance for wolves over the long term. Most of those urbanites haven’t a clue how their steaks and ground beef got to the cellophane wrapped package in the cold case, including the ones who voted in favor of the narrowly passing reintroduction initiative.

              I think the agricultural community views coyote control costs not alot differently from wheat rust, weeds, or insects, all of which are costly and re-appear every year. Speaking of coyotes we now have more in Seattle than I have ever seen before. More cats disappearing too. My wife enountered a coyote two days ago when walking our golden retriever on leash. Coyote was 15′ away and undeterred by her yelling. Just trotted away another 10′ or so.

              And yeah, I watched the introspective video, and enjoyed it.

              • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

                The January 1, 2018 inventory of all sheep and lambs in Colorado totaled 445,000 head, up 6 percent from January 1, 2017, according to the January 1 Sheep and Goat Survey conducted by the Mountain Regional Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA.

                Then there’s

                Top 10 States With The Most Sheep & Lambs

                The United States has 5.21 million head of sheep and lambs.

                Roughly 25% of the sheep and lambs in the United States are in Texas and California.

                https://beef2live.com/story-top-10-states-sheep-lambs-0-117992

                LOL

                • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

                  Inventory data on U.S. sheep began in 1867, when there were approximately 45 million sheep in the United States. Sheep numbers peaked in 1884 at 51 million head. Since then, numbers have declined to nearly 5.0 million head in 2016

                  … Although the sheep industry accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. livestock industry receipts, sheep operations are important to the economies of several States. More than two-thirds of U.S. operations are located in the Southern Plains, Mountain, and Pacific regions, and the regional distribution has remained fairly constant since the early 1900s.

                  … The U.S. market for lamb and mutton meat has weakened throughout the decades. Since the 1960s, per capita consumption has dropped from nearly 5 pounds to just about 1 pound. This drop is due in part to declining acceptance of lamb from a growing segment of the population

                  … The Northeast, with its high concentrations of Middle Eastern, Caribbean, and African consumers, is a major market for lamb products. The typical lamb consumer is an older, relatively well-established ethnic individual who lives in a metropolitan area such as New York, Boston, or Philadelphia in the Northeast or in San Francisco or Los Angeles on the West Coast, and who prefers to eat only certain lamb cuts. In contrast, beef, pork, and poultry buyers tend to be geographically dispersed, younger, and less ethnically oriented and tend to buy a wider variety of cuts.

                  .. Trade
                  With per capita lamb and mutton consumption fairly stable, imports have offset the decline in domestic production. Lamb and mutton imports, which currently account for more than half of U.S. supply, are mainly from Australia (about 75 percent) and New Zealand (about 24 percent).

                  https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/sheep-lamb-mutton/sector-at-a-glance/

              • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

                0.445 out of 2.8m = 16% or 1/6

                not bad for an unbiased lawyer

                • avatar WM says:

                  You know Mareks, I don’t mind being taken to school to correct a non-material factually incorrect casual comment here, but your juvenile approach to is a bit annoying, along with the lengthy and repetitive posts on the same topic for which you seem famous on this forum. Is that a Latvian cultural thing (meaning no disrespect of course) or is it just you?

                  As for sheep, remaining off this thread topic for a short while, I don’t like them much. Many on grazing allotments in CO on BLM and FS lands, years ago when lived there, which probably colored my comment on over-stating their numbers. I do remember a few long hikes (climbing 14,000 ft peaks there are something near 60 of them in CO) in the high country and coming down to wide summer meadows filled with sheep/lambs, and their stink ruined some pretty nice hikes, otherwise. And, the way they eat grass down sometimes makes it tough on range recovery.

                • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

                  you would be surprised WM, how popular Latvians are in Colorado

                  https://www.nhl.com/avalanche/news/avs-20th-anniversary-team-sandis-ozolinsh/c-867499

                  Facts are important.

                • avatar Nancy says:

                  Score 1, Lativa 🙂

                • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

                  high-five Nancy!
                  🙂

                • avatar WM says:

                  Mareks, since you speak so highly of your fellow countrymen’s hockey skills maybe they will play for the new expansion team, the Seattle Kraken, not that I am much of a fan of professional for profit sports teams, also heavily subsidized by tax dollars that go into building arenas and stadiums along with the many tax concessions sports teams get.

              • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

                The U.S. sheep inventory declined from 49 million head in 1942 to 9 million in 1989. Lamb imports have also declined and, in relation to U.S. production, are not seen as a major cause of the sheep industry’s problems. Production has declined despite positive returns to producers.

                Here’s relevant input from Colorado’s sheep farmers:

                The Long, Slow Decline Of The US Sheep Industry
                https://www.harvestpublicmedia.org/post/long-slow-decline-us-sheep-industry

                Most farms aren’t fenced in any more, Hasbrouck says, and have grown so large that maintaining a sheep herd makes no economic sense. It’s more trouble than it’s worth for a large crop grower.

                Hasbrouck’s feedlot is part of Mountain States Rosen, a large co-op that markets lamb to meatpacking companies and locks in prices. But the lamb and sheep industry is still wildly volatile. Price swings are the norm and when risk is too high ranchers tend to bow out.

                Another problem that has plagued the industry is lamb’s perception by the average consumer. Longtime sheep producers put the blame on the meat fed to soldiers all the way back in World War II.

                “Those troops were fed canned mutton and when they came home they said, ‘No more lamb, no more sheep. Don’t eat any of it.’ And that’s where we saw the steady decline,” said Brad Anderson, livestock supply manager for Mountain States co-op.

                • avatar Rich says:

                  I can remember being force fed mutton in the grade school lunch program as a way to subsidize sheep farmers. I think the stew was made from roadkill. It was hideous and mostly just dumped in the garbage as kids wouldn’t eat it. I know the same sheep farmers are still being subsidized through numerous taxpayer funded programs.

                  WM says:
                  “I think the agricultural community views coyote control costs not alot differently from wheat rust, weeds, or insects, all of which are costly and re-appear every year.”

                  I can understand that as it is seen as yet another entitlement to the public money trough.

                • avatar WM says:

                  And, yet, Rich, there are subsidy programs for all kinds of agricultural crops, as well as pest control, all funded by Congress, including direct payments to crop growers to not do certain things like grow crops, or not use marginal lands subject to water and wind erosion. Attack part of it, you need to attack all if you want to bring up the feeding at the money trough argument.

            • avatar Ida Lupine says:

              That was wonderful. 🙂

  5. avatar WM says:

    More about Associations/Councils of government in Colorado. This “lobbying group” would be Planning and Management Region 11 on the included map. Again, facts are important.

    https://coloradoregions.colorado.gov/about

  6. avatar Brancusi says:

    They call it the Division of Parks and Wildlife. But are they actually interested in any wildlife species unless people from other states will buy tags to shoot it?

  7. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    I also wonder if things like this are taken into account consideration when considering a relisting or ‘recovery’.

    I consider the recovery of wolves put forth by USF&W propaganda-like, in that it refuses to acknowledge, maybe even deliberately, the abuses that come after the so-called recover, that put the recovery ultimately in jeopardy!

    But for people who don’t follow the issue closely or may not question, the wrong impression is given.

  8. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    ^^Sorry for the typos above.

    Here’s a voice I have been wondering if we’d hear from, and we have:

    https://www.cascwild.org/defazio-letter-urges-immediate-protections-for-gray-wolves/

  9. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    The so-called wolf recovery was put forth by the Trump administration, so I am very concerned that the current administration has been silent.

    It must be the only thing they agree with the Trump administration on, is the only conclusion I can draw. Science, experts and others all disagree vehemently.

    • avatar Marc Bedner says:

      Don’t expect much from the former director of the Montana Game Department (which, like Colorado, deceptively calls itself a Department of Wildlife and Parks) who serves as Biden’s acting FWS Director.
      And this is far from the only area where Biden is no better than Trump. Enbridge Line 3, for one.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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