State Wildlife Areas Deserve Everyone’s Support

SangredeCristoWild-Deer-30Aug03.JPGIn Colorado, we’re privileged have access to a smorgasbord of state and federal public lands that facilitate hiking, climbing, camping, canoeing, hunting, fishing, wildlife watching and a myriad of other outdoor activities. However, many of these public lands are increasingly being loved to death. State Wildlife Areas are a case in point.

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages over 350 State Wildlife Areas and holds leases on nearly 240 State Trust Lands in Colorado, which are funded through the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses,” said CPW Southeast Regional Manager Brett Ackerman. “The purpose of these properties is to conserve and improve wildlife habitat, and provide access to wildlife-related recreation like hunting and fishing that are a deep part of Colorado’s conservation legacy.”[1]

New License Rule

Colorado’s SWAs are acquired with license dollars from hunters and anglers–and are managed with that funding today–primarily to restore, conserve, manage and enhance wildlife and wildlife habitat.[2] However, across the state, CPW has seen increasing use of State Wildlife Areas inconsistent with their purpose.[3]

A good example is camping, including people taking up temporary residence in SWAs. There is also vehicular use on big game winter ranges, pressure from hikers, maintenance issues, trash, vandalism and other uses detrimental to wildlife and wildlife-related uses.[4] Another example is the Mount Evans State Wildlife Area west of Evergreen.

“Every year when we open the gate for that wildlife area to start letting cars through, we see all the wildlife disappear,” said CPW spokesman Travis Duncan. “They get driven off from so much traffic, from so much human use. That’s one example of the kinds of things that are happening around the state.”[5]

Recognizing that SWAs are no longer just used by hunters and anglers, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission recently adopted a rule change requiring all visitors 18 or older to possess a valid hunting or fishing license to access any State Wildlife Area or State Trust Land leased by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This new rule went into effect on July 1, 2020.[6]

As Colorado’s population has grown and physically expanded into closer proximity with many of these SWAs, public uses have increased and are reaching the point where they are not compatible with the original wildlife purpose. These other public uses have placed increasing pressure on the property infrastructure and habitat, resulting in wildlife being pushed off the properties, habitat degradation and increased costs for CPW.[7]

Quandary_Peak-24Jun12_(1).JPGWhy Not A Wildlife-Watching License?
Because funding for these properties is specifically generated by hunting and fishing license sales and the resulting federal match, requested options such as “hiking licenses” or “conservation permits” would not allow for the maintenance and management needed. Any funding from one of these conceptual licenses or permits would reduce the federal grant dollar for dollar and thus fail to increase CPW’s ability to protect and manage the properties.[8]

CPW actually offered a wildlife-watching license in the past, but it ran afoul of the federal rules of wildlife conservation funding. Here’s the short explanation. The majority of funding for wildlife conservation comes from federal grants based on each states’ sales of hunting and fishing licenses and from excise taxes on firearms and archery equipment. Several years ago, the General Assembly voted to require all users of SWAs to purchase a state Wildlife Habitat Stamp as a way to generate conservation funding.[9]

It failed for a couple reasons. First, only hunters or anglers complied, for the most part. Those who only hike or watch wildlife or camp didn’t bother to buy the stamp. Second, funding for SWAs actually fell because federal officials ruled the Habitat Stamp was classified as “program income” and it ended up decreasing our federal grant money by the same amount we were able to bring in. The General Assembly eventually repealed that statute.[10]

Because these properties have always been open to the public, not just to the hunters and anglers that purchased them and pay for their maintenance, many people visit these properties and use them as they would any other public land. As Colorado’s population—and desire for outdoor recreation—has continued to grow, a significant increase in traffic to these SWAs and STLs has disrupted wildlife, the habitat the areas were acquired to protect, and the hunters and anglers whose contributions were critical to acquiring these properties.[11]

“This new rule change will help our agency begin to address some of the unintended uses we’re seeing at many of our State Wildlife Areas and State Trust Lands,” said CPW Director Dan Prenzlow. “We have seen so much more non-wildlife related use of these properties …”[12] A 2017 study conducted by Conservation Science Partners found that the West loses a football field-sized chunk of natural area every 2.5 minutes. In Colorado, we lost 525 square miles, or 254,259 football fields to human development between 2001 and 2011.[13]

In a 2016 CPW report, the agency calculated 62% of revenues for wildlife protection came from fishing and hunting licenses, with the next biggest chunk, 17%, from excise tax on sporting gear.[14] David Leinweber, owner of Colorado Springs fly shop Angler’s Covey and chair of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance, said: “Our public lands are a shared cost, and right now hunting and fishing is … bearing the load.”[15]

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is implementing the new rule so more segments of the community shoulder the costs of maintaining lands for wildlife habitat, said spokesman Joe Lewandowski. “All Coloradans value wildlife and hopefully [will] be willing to spend something on that,” he said. “The bottom line is, funding from sportsmen will not likely cover all the conservation work being done,” added Dan Parkinson, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers southwest Colorado Regional Director. “The base has to be expanded to include other people who enjoy wildlife.”[16]

IMG_1129_-_Copy-o-Chicago_Basin-Aug09_(8).JPGDo A Little, Accomplish A Lot

“Hunters and anglers are proud of the funding we provide to support State Wildlife Areas and State Trust Lands,” said Colorado BHA Co-Chair, Don Holmstrom. “But the popularity of these public lands means we can no longer do it alone. State Wildlife Areas and State Trust Lands need everyone’s support. When we all do a little, by buying a license once a year, we accomplish a lot.”

“Considering that a pair of hiking boots can go for well over $100 and the cost of a single restaurant dinner for two can easily exceed $50, the cost of purchasing a hunting or fishing license once a year seems like a bargain for most public lands users,” added Colorado BHA Co-Chair, David Lien. For the non-hunter and non-angler wanting to visit a state wildlife area, the cheapest bet for residents is a one-day fishing or small game hunting license, each costing $13.90. Annual small game licenses are $30.11, and annual fishing licenses $35.17.[17]

If you care about wildlife in Colorado, buying a hunting or fishing license is one of the best ways to protect it, whether or not you actually hunt or fish. Please consider emailing the CPW Commission to express support for the requirement that members of the general public possess a hunting or fishing license prior to recreating on State Wildlife Areas and State Trust Lands. Send comments (by July 17) to: dnr_cpwcommission@state.co.us. And don’t forget to get your hunting or fishing license at www.cpwshop.com.

For additional information see:

Founded by Mike Beagle, a former U.S. Army field artillery officer, and formed around an Oregon campfire, in 2004, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the voice for our nation’s wild public lands, waters and wildlife. With over 40,000 members spread out across all 50 states and 13 Canadian provinces and territories—including chapters in 48 states, two Canadian provinces and one territory, and Washington, D.C.—BHA brings an authentic, informed, boots-on-the-ground voice to the conservation of public lands. Since the Colorado BHA chapter was founded by David Petersen (a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot) in 2005 (the first official BHA chapter), they’ve grown their boots-on-the-ground presence to some 3,000 dedicated hunters and anglers.

[1] Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). “Colorado State Wildlife Areas: New rules and what they mean for all Coloradans.” CPW News Release: 6/29/20. https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/News-Release-Details.aspx?NewsID=7496

[2] Travis Duncan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife information officer. “Here’s why you need a hunting or fishing license.” The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain: 7/4/20. https://www.chieftain.com/opinion/20200704/herersquos-why-you-need-hunting-or-fishing-license

[3] Travis Duncan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife information officer. “Here’s why you need a hunting or fishing license.” The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain: 7/4/20. https://www.chieftain.com/opinion/20200704/herersquos-why-you-need-hunting-or-fishing-license

[4] Travis Duncan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife information officer. “Here’s why you need a hunting or fishing license.” The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain: 7/4/20. https://www.chieftain.com/opinion/20200704/herersquos-why-you-need-hunting-or-fishing-license

[5] John Meyer. “Starting Wednesday, you need a hunting or fishing license to hike in Colorado state wildlife areas: Change will help Colorado Parks and Wildlife address “unintended uses” in areas set aside for hunting and fishing.” The Denver Post: 7/1/20. https://theknow.denverpost.com/2020/07/01/colorado-state-wildlife-areas-hunting-fishing-license/241323/

[6] Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). “Colorado State Wildlife Areas: New rules and what they mean for all Coloradans.” CPW News Release: 6/29/20. https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/News-Release-Details.aspx?NewsID=7496

[7] Travis Duncan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife information officer. “Here’s why you need a hunting or fishing license.” The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain: 7/4/20. https://www.chieftain.com/opinion/20200704/herersquos-why-you-need-hunting-or-fishing-license

[8] Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). “Colorado State Wildlife Areas: New rules and what they mean for all Coloradans.” CPW News Release: 6/29/20. https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/News-Release-Details.aspx?NewsID=7496

[9] Travis Duncan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife information officer. “Here’s why you need a hunting or fishing license.” The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain: 7/4/20. https://www.chieftain.com/opinion/20200704/herersquos-why-you-need-hunting-or-fishing-license

[10] Travis Duncan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife information officer. “Here’s why you need a hunting or fishing license.” The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain: 7/4/20. https://www.chieftain.com/opinion/20200704/herersquos-why-you-need-hunting-or-fishing-license

[11] Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). “Colorado State Wildlife Areas: New rules and what they mean for all Coloradans.” CPW News Release: 6/29/20. https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/News-Release-Details.aspx?NewsID=7496

[12] Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). “Colorado State Wildlife Areas: New rules and what they mean for all Coloradans.” CPW News Release: 6/29/20. https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/News-Release-Details.aspx?NewsID=7496

[13] Jill Ryan, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jeanne McQueeney are Eagle County commissioners. “Celebrate Colorado Public Lands Day.” Vail Daily: 5/19/17.

[14] Seth Boster. “Hikers soon will have to pay to visit some Colorado outdoor areas, including Dome Rock.” OutThereColorado: 6/25/20. https://www.outtherecolorado.com/hikers-soon-will-have-to-pay-to-visit-some-colorado-outdoor-areas-including-dome-rock/

[15] Seth Boster. “Hikers soon will have to pay to visit some Colorado outdoor areas, including Dome Rock.” OutThereColorado: 6/25/20. https://www.outtherecolorado.com/hikers-soon-will-have-to-pay-to-visit-some-colorado-outdoor-areas-including-dome-rock/

[16] Jonathan Romeo. “Colorado Parks and Wildlife creates new rule to help fund wildlife conservation.” The Journal: 6/5/20. https://the-journal.com/articles/178223

[17] Seth Boster. “Hikers soon will have to pay to visit some Colorado outdoor areas, including Dome Rock.” OutThereColorado: 6/25/20. https://www.outtherecolorado.com/hikers-soon-will-have-to-pay-to-visit-some-colorado-outdoor-areas-including-dome-rock/

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