Colorado: Quality or quantity?

Oak

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Shooting for 'quality' elk creates revenue concerns
By Charlie Meyers
Denver Post Outdoor Editor
http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E110%257E1887184,00.html

Brad Phelps just wants Colorado's wildlife managers to do what they promised.

As a result, the state's wildlife agency suddenly finds itself on the brink of a decision it never wanted to make - at least not in the foreseeable future.

If Phelps, a member of the Colorado Wildlife Commission, succeeds in holding his colleagues' feet to the fire, the state's policy-making body may have to rescind its long-standing offer of over-the-counter bull elk licenses.

What Phelps wants - nay, demands - is that the Division of Wildlife uphold the policy of maintaining a certain level of "quality" in its elk herds as determined by the ratio of mature bulls to cows.

"We're supposed to have a ratio of 30 bulls per 100 cows in 20 percent of our game management units. We haven't gotten there," Phelps said Thursday at a commission meeting to discuss the next five-year big game season structure for 2005-09.

"We're also not supposed to allow any unit to drop below 10 bulls per 100, and we currently have seven of those," Phelps said. "We're supposed to have a 30-bull ratio in Unit 76, and it's just 12.5.

"The yes and no answer is that DOW isn't doing what it said it would do. We can't just write things down on paper and not do anything about it," the commissioner from Parlin concluded.

What gives many wildlife managers and bean counters the heebie-jeebies is that strict adherence to policy almost certainly would upset the over-the-counter apple cart, spilling the agency's entire financial arrangement in the process.

That every hunter is assured the opportunity to purchase a bull elk license in most Western Slope game management units forms the linchpin of a sales structure by which nearly 80 percent of all Colorado license revenue and 55 percent of the total DOW budget accrues from the sale of big game permits.

A great portion of that comes specifically from nonresident elk licenses, which is tied to the fact that only in Colorado is a visitor assured of a bull tag. In addition, many hunters who pursue bull elk also pop for a cow elk or deer tag, where available.

In effect, every DOW program from fishing to small game to watchable wildlife is joined at the hip to the sale of over-the-counter bull elk licenses. Any change that upsets this revenue flow causes tremors in the agency's budget structure that rank high on the Richter scale.

Only two general options exist in reducing the annual bull elk harvest as a way to increase "quality" animals in subsequent seasons: cutting back the dates of an already thin rifle season or limiting the number of permits.

"That's tough to deal with," John Ellenberger, state big game manager, said of any adjustment to the timing and days in a season. "We really don't have options other than reducing the number of licenses."

Neither Phelps nor anyone at DOW has pointed a sharp pencil at the overall budget impact of totally limited bull licenses. But Phelps suggests the agency might gain positive economic benefit by improving the quality of the hunt.

"Lots of people aren't coming back to pay $490 (the cost of a nonresident license) to hunt 2-year-old bulls," he said. "There's a lot more demand for quality hunting in this state than we admit."

At present, DOW managers are proposing three alternatives in a decision process that becomes final at the March commission meeting.

The first is to retain the current goal of a 20-to-30 bull ratio with no units below 10.

Another involves specific parameters of quality in which precisely half the units would be managed for maximum-opportunity, over-the-counter hunts. With this plan, 30 percent would be designated for higher quality - fewer hunters in the field with a 20- to-30 bull ratio. The remaining 20 percent, about twice the current ratio, would be set aside for "premier" hunts for trophy bulls six points or better.

A third alternative is aimed at allowing hunters to take four- and five-point bulls in 80 percent of the units, with six points or better in the remaining 20 percent.

In its Solomon-like task of resolving this tangle of opportunity, quality and economics, the commission also could adopt some combination of the three. The decision must be reached rather quickly, while also including a hurry-up public hearing process.

DOW soon will announce dates for a series of such meetings across the state. Concerned big game hunters should speak up now or bite their tongues for another five years.

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My opinion: They could improve the financial situation somewhat if they would increase resident license fees. It's long overdue.

Oak
 

Washington Hunter

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Oak, you said what I was going to say. Raising resident fees seems like the obvious solution, why can't they see that? How much does a resident pay? I know it's ridiculously cheap, especially when compared to what non-residents pay. So what does an elk tag cost..$10?
 

Bambistew

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Chugiak, AK
Why don't they just make the whole state 6pt or better instead of the 4pt rule? The current rule only saves the one year old bulls... It would let everyone still hunt and the bulls would get bigger and older/wiser all across the state. If people want the meat buy a frickn cow tag...

CO couldn't get much more screwed up anyway...
 

chambero

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Aug 20, 2003
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Fort Worth, TX
I've always thought there was too big of a discrepancy between nonresident & resident fees. I don't think the nonresident fees are too high, but making resident bull elk fees something on the order of $100 or so shouldn't really preclude the lower middle class from hunting. Hunters in most other states have to pay a lot more than that when you have to factor in our own resident license costs and lease fees for private land.

Another question I have is what does DOW really do? Seriously, the USFS or BLM conducts practically all habitat management activities on public land in Colardo. DOW has a very limited role. I know they conduct population surveys, provide game wardens (although I've never met one in 10+ years of hunting the state), and staff game check stations to see if they can run off every nonresident hunter, but what do they really do with all that money?

I'm definitely in favor of increasing quality in Colorado. A license system where everyone could hunt bulls at least every other year might be acceptable to most nonresidents. There would probably always be plenty of cow tags and deer tags to get in alternate years.
 

A-con

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Dec 23, 2000
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Fresno,Ca.
A hundred bucks might be a bit high for residents, but if they raised it to $50, and left cow tags cheap, the resident meat hunters would all go for cows, leaving more bulls to survive and grow larger.
Also, they should make the fourth season a drawing, like the first.
Most non-res would just go the second or third seasons, so they would still sell pleanty of the $480 OTC tags, and they could control the number of tags for the fouth, depending on the bull/cow raito.
That would also put less pressure on the bulls that get pushed out of the back country by snows, and harvested during the fourth season. More of them would grow up to be big bulls, and before long Colorado would start producing bigger bulls. More people would come and buy OTC tags during the second and third because of the chance of getting a "big bull". Result = more money for the DOW, and more happy hunters.
( damn, they should pay me for this stuff ! )
 

Boman

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Jan 24, 2002
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Colorado
The resident cost for an elk tag is $30. I think most residents would pay $50-$100 for a tag. I like the idea of 6pts or better rule too. I think if they did that along with keeping the cow tags cheap they could do well. I also think the Dow needs to work with the private landowners more to get hunters on those lands to take cows in areas that are way overpopulated. Lastly I think they should award hunters with a good bull tag (that takes 2 or 3 pts to draw not 15) or an extra point or two when they take a cow or two in overpopulated areas. Thats my 2cents.
 
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