CPW Commission considers license increase, Polis eyes wolverine reintroduction, prairie dog protection
December 2, 2023
During the most recent meeting, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission raised non-resident bear tags to $250, resident bear increased to $58.30, and non-resident cougar raised to $500 but not before significant discussion about the perception of bypassing public comment and stakeholder engagement.
Commissioner Eden Vardy, a production agriculture representative from Aspen, said previous license decreases meant to increase take and reduce human-bear conflict were ineffective. He made a motion to raise fur bearers, bears and mountain lions, which resulted in much discussion and a revised schedule during the second day of the meeting. Vardy withdrew his motion to raise the fees to the statutory caps.
CPW Director Jeff Davis apologized to the public for the element of surprise in the first day of the meeting about license fees. Brian Dreher, terrestrial section manager, reviewed the information requests of the commission.
The potential financial impacts of the original motion would have brought non-resident furbearer fees from $97.17 to $303.65, resident fall bear fees from $44.37 to $58.30, non-resident fall bear fees from $116.77 to $801.64, and non-resident mountain lion from $408.70 to $801.64.
Dreher said CPW currently sells about 20,000 resident fall bear licenses and if there were no decrease in sales, the fee increase could result in an additional $275,000 revenue. The three-year average sales of non-resident furbearer licenses is 140 licenses. Dreher said there are two pathways for non-residents to hunt furbearers: through the purchase of a stand-alone furbearer license or through the purchase of a small game license and a $10 furbearer permit. He said the increase in the non-resident furbearer license would be made irrelevant as the $10 permit exists.
COMPARED TO OTHER STATES
Dreher compared bear and mountain lion license prices to other states. The average price in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah is $293.39 for non-resident black bear, compared to the potential increased price of $801.64 and the average non-resident mountain lion license was $388.83, compared to the potential increased price of $801.64.
"As non-resident hunters contemplate in which state to hunt for these species, a higher license price could be expected to impact their choice," Dreher said.
CPW sells approximately 500 non-resident mountain lion licenses, and those non-residents make up less than 25% of mountain lion license sales but they also have about 50% of the licensed take in the state. He said the price increase is likely to decrease statewide take.
He said based on five years of data, if non-resident bear license fees are increased as proposed, it is likely non-resident license sales would decrease by at least 70%. As for revenue, he said at a license price of $801, CPW would have to sell 1,500 licenses to equal the 2021 income generated by sales of the $100 license.
Non-resident harvested bears increased from about 300 to 600 after a 2019 rate decrease and harvest by non-resident hunters has remained steady and non-resident harvest has remained steady at about 40% of total statewide harvest.
He said while he doesn't have the data to estimate how much the average non-resident hunter spends to hunt in the state, he did say about 20% of successful non-resident bear hunters used the services of an outfitter (compared to 2% of residents) and about 75% of successful non-resident mountain lion hunters used the services of an outfitter, compared to just over 15% of resident lion hunters.
It's important, he said, to consider the goals of a license fee price change, and the goal may not be consistent among commission members. Secondly, the wildlife world is uncertain, making incremental steps potentially a best path forward.
CONSEQUENCES FOR MANAGEMENT
Davis said license revenue isn't the only source of funding for conservation, but it a huge portion of those dollars. He said pricing hunters out of the state has ramifications on the management side as well as for the conservation work. Some of those consequences could affect ecosystem health, management ability, and human wildlife conflicts.
Commissioner Marie Haskett, sportspersons and outfitters representative from Meeker, said the commission voted during the August meeting to increase licenses to $250 and while she voted against that measure, she "has come to terms with it." She said no additional increases should be made in the interest of transparency and public engagement, which was bypassed by the original motion. Her motion to comply with the $250 fee was seconded. Commissioner Vardy did clarify that his intent was to return to the license fee amount prior to the decrease in 2018 with the intention of moving incrementally to the maximum fee allowed by statute.
Commissioner James Tutchton added that if the commission increases mountain lion license fees to the statutory max, the current ballot proposition to outlaw mountain lion hunting could be damaged, allowing CPW to stay in control of management of the species.
Haskett responded. She said there is a legislative declaration directing the state to utilize hunting, trapping, and fishing as the primary methods of effecting necessary wildlife harvests. (CRS2022 title 33-1-101.) She said bear and mountain lion hunting is also about providing opportunity to constituents, in addition to conflict management. Proponents of the ballot initiative to outlaw mountain lion hunting have approached the commission multiple times and been defeated unanimously each time. She said a similar piece of legislation was soundly defeated and she anticipates this ballot initiative is a last-ditch effort.
"I do believe this state has afforded us the right to hunt and fish and this commission is supposed to protect those rights," she said.
During the public comment portion, Luke Wiedel, Coloradans for Responsible Wildlife Management, said the message sent by the commission approving a huge increase in license fees would be one of discouraging the hunting of lions and bears. An incremental increase is appropriate, but the lack of public discourse would be perceived poorly.
John Allis clarified that bears and mountain lions are game animals that are consumed and reiterated that failure to remove game meat from the field is a felony. Cody Lohstroh echoed Allis and Wiedel's comments about the game value of the meat of the two species and the potential negative public perception of a lack of stakeholder input.
Mark Vieira, CPW Carnivore and Furbearer Program manager said it's difficult to correlate bear harvest and human conflict based on available data but in years of lower food availability, bears are moving toward humans. The importance of human behavior and conflict, he said, cannot be overstated. He said conflict is primarily occurring in the urban wildlife interface where hunting is not a tool used to manage populations.
Haskett declined to amend her motion to include a rate increase to non-resident bear to $400. Her original motion to maintain the $250 license fee, seconded by Commissioner Duke Phillips, passed with Reading and Vardy opposing.
Tutchton made a motion to increase the non-resident mountain lion license fee $801.64, which died for lack of a second. Tutchton made a motion to increase the non-resident mountain lion fee to $600 though it was amended to $500, which passed. In all, non-resident bear increased to $250, resident bear increased to $58.30, and non-resident mountain lion increased to $500.
WOLVERINES AND PRAIRIE DOGS
Additionally, The Fence Post magazine obtained a copy of a May document summarizing Colorado Gov. Jared Polis administration's priorities for Davis. According to the document, the administration has advocated for wolverine reintroduction since 2019 and he "expects that it will be completed before his term in office is over." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Nov. 29 that the North American wolverine will receive federal protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Public comments are now open on the Federal Register. In 2013, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sought to establish a nonessential experimental population for wolverine in the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, northern New Mexico and southern Wyoming. According to the document, the administration will either seek a wolverine reintroduction bill in the upcoming session or reintroduce them as an unlisted species, which is no longer necessary given the USFWS decision.
The administration said they would "like to conduct this reintroduction as promptly as possible, striving for (wolverine) paws on the ground within the next one-two years."
The administration outlines plans to add bag limits on furbearers and to curtail trapping. Further, "the governor is also supportive of ending fur trapping altogether." Prairie dogs are listed as a species that should receive conservation through legislative and regulatory actions. The administration outlines the protections necessary for prairie dogs, including repealing statutory translocation restrictions which require county approval. The administration also plans to partner with the Colorado Department of Agriculture and State Land Board to "reform laws and regulations that focus on lethal control rather than conservation." The CDA currently defines prairie dogs as "destructive rodent pests," a definition the administration wants removed from prairie dogs so the administration can end the currently required prairie dog control on state lease property.
The administration also spells out the governor's desire to protect black bear and mountain lions. The document also made mention of the lesser prairie chicken, Gunnison sage grouse, and greater sage grouse, saying "the governor remains focused on ensuring paths forward for protecting wildlife habitats, while at the same time wildlife issues are not used as a NIMBY tool for needed renewable energy generation."
Source: Rachel Gabel, The Fence Post Magazine
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