Population Growth and Hunting in Rocky Mountain States

Big Fin

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Reading the threads about the season structure debate in Colorado, the inflation of non-resident tags, and the general comments over the years about crowding and reduced opportunity, it got me doing some research about population growth in the Rocky Mountain States. I think most living here knew it, but it turns out the Rockies are some of the fastest growing areas in the US, by a big margin. The Rocky Mountain area is defined by most as CO, ID, MT, UT, WY.

Here are a few links of how much faster these states have been growing than the rest of the country.

Trends from 1959-2018 - https://united-states.reaproject.org/analysis/comparative-trends-analysis/population/tools/970000/0/

News about MT rapid growth - https://www.mtpr.org/post/census-numbers-show-big-growth-western-montana

79,000 new MT residents in the last eight years - https://www.opendatanetwork.com/entity/0400000US30/Montana/demographics.population.change?year=2017

165,000 new ID residents in the last eight years - https://www.opendatanetwork.com/entity/0400000US16/Idaho/demographics.population.change?year=2017&ref=related-peer

60,000 new WY residents in the last eight years - https://www.opendatanetwork.com/entity/0400000US56/Wyoming/demographics.population.change?year=2017&ref=compare-entity

593,000 new CO residents in the last eight years - https://www.opendatanetwork.com/entity/0400000US08/Colorado/demographics.population.count?ref=search-entity&year=2017

340,000 new UT residents in the last eight years - https://www.opendatanetwork.com/entity/0400000US49/Utah/demographics.population.count?year=2017&ref=compare-entity

From 2017-2018 over 20,000 Californians moved to ID - https://www.ktvb.com/article/news/local/yes-many-californians-are-moving-to-idaho-here-are-the-other-states-new-residents-are-coming-from/277-f65f25f1-6752-427a-b107-a27e5ca09417


It doesn't take long to see what this migration pattern is doing to the Rocky Mountain states that have historically had high resident hunter participation rates and hosted the largest portion of non-resident western hunters. And if you look at the projected numbers, the rate of increase is accelerating, not flattening or decreasing.

It is a western tradition to blame non-residents for all that is wrong with hunting in our states. Sorry, but it is part of the local indoctrination, with Californians and Texans being targeted to the highest degree. That might make for good humor, but the numbers probably show otherwise when one considers the limits that keep non-resident tag availability static or declining compared to the lack of limits on resident tag availability that are elastic in many instances. Resident population growth is far exceeding what little growth is happening in non-resident hunting opportunity due to most (not all) non-resident big game hunting being on some sort of quota or statutory limit, Colorado OTC elk being a possible exception.

What does that spell for hunting in these states, both resident and non-resident hunting? Not sure anyone knows, but I think some reasonable assumptions can be made. Though we know that not every new person is a hunter, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect that a good portion of those new residents are moving there for the outdoor benefits these states provide.

WY and CO have been the most generous to non-residents, in terms of license allocations. Can that generosity continue when resident population growth is putting a lot of demand on agencies to focus first on resident opportunity? I suspect changes will come in the next decade.

Can states with great resident opportunity and resident OTC/General tags continue with long/liberal seasons and OTC/General tags, as have ID, MT, and WY, when resident population growth is going to put more and more pressure on that resource? I hate to think about it, but it seems that changes will have to be made as these population growth trends continue.

How to handle the crowding of public lands, not just from hunters, as these new residents take to the hills to enjoy the outdoor amenities these states provide? Will that mean greater demand for exclusive private access, displacing hunters currently hunting those private lands and thus compounding the crowding issues on public? Seems to me that every possible solution for hunting access is going to be necessary, whether it improves access to public lands or private lands.

I fully expect that non-resident opportunity will be reduced in many western states over the coming decades as agencies are required to reallocate the hunting opportunity more toward residents. Just no way around it when resident growth in all these states is so high.

Wish it was a different picture. So long as people are fleeing the coasts and big cities, the Rocky Mountain states are going to be the landing spot for many people with the mobility to pack up and move. The fecundity of the American population seems to be in full force and that pushes the numbers even higher.

I don't have any answers to solve population growth in the Rocky Mountain states. Hell, I moved out west in 1984, so I am one of "those guys." I know that this rapid growth is bad for wildlife and wild places. Our animal populations are already relegated to their most marginal historic habitats. With population growth comes the development, which pushes wildlife even further to the margins. Amazingly, we have been able to increase or at least maintain numbers of some species in the face of this rapid growth. Yet, for some like mule deer and antelope and wild sheep, the consequences have been harsh.

Maybe I had too much nostalgia in my coffee this morning as I drove past multiple new subdivisions here in Bozeman and think about the geese we used to hammer in those fields. Like many Rocky Mountain state residents, I can't help but think that my future resident hunting opportunities are going to change as this population trend continues. I normally don't express those thoughts knowing full well that when I first came here in 1989 (and visited every few months before moving here two years later,) my move here probably imposed some of the same feelings on long-time residents at that time, even if the newspaper at that time was littered with real estate offers of "take over payments" as compared to the crazy prices of today.

Sorry to ramble without providing anything in the way of solutions.
 
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Sytes

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With the inflated populations come the "perceptions" or maybe better stated, "mis-conceptions" of hunting and hunters in general. People escaping their home state for sake of a "better life" yet bring the politics they seek to escape with them.
 

Nameless Range

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I think often about what population boom means for the west, how peoples’ relationship with place is very similar to their relationships with one another, and how the ways we grieve the deaths of our loved ones is actually quite similar to how we grieve the death of our loved places. I’m only 35, and in terms of the land where I grew up, there is death all around me. I remember the hills where the subdivision I now live in exists, and in a way, every family home may as well be a tombstone.


I’ve written on here before, and still believe, that we can handle increased hunter numbers and still provide all the opportunities we currently have and more, if only we would make regulations revolve around decreasing hunter efficacy as opposed to hunter-days.

I won’t beat it to death because I’ve posted numerous times in threads about technology,but I can imagine if a half a dozen contiguous units of the Missouri breaks were all of a sudden made traditional archery only. No guns period. I believe that after a decade, those units would hold the same mythos for deer and elk as the unlimiteds do for Rams.

We could get creative with how we decrease hundred efficacy, but it is true what they say about boys and their toys. And so eventually Montana will fall as the philosophy of opportunity crosses the threshold and turns us into a land of limited draw units for resident or nonresident .
 

ntodwild

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There is another factor that may not be taken into consideration that we have noticed in our own home state of Washington. If you are someone who hunts the same area yearly for a long period of time I think most will have noticed that 10 or so years ago hunting participation really declined for many reasons of which one is the economy (Hunting is discretionary in many ways and is based on the ability to support it based on monetary ability). I know many of us would pawn our first born kid and live in the dog house for months in order to get out every year but others are more reasonable ..........As the economy has bettered itself the population of hunters has increased (both out of state as well as in state), many of whom were life long hunters who just couldn't afford $$$ or take the time to get out into the wilderness and hunt.

Im not sure there is anyway of actually tracking this theory but as a hunter of over 35yrs I definitely noticed the ebb and flow of economy in conjunction with number of hunters in the field. Last season I ran into more hunters (all year long) that I have seen in a decade.
 
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Old man bob

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It has killed us here in AZ. Phoenix alone adds 1 million every 10 years .When I moved here in 1977 Metro Phx. was 1 million. Now it is 5 million. And thats just phoenix. The whole State has probably added another mill. Our odds have really gone to helll..................BOB!
 

neffa3

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Yesterday my 8 year old daughter asked why we were climbing a steep, overgrown, hot and dusty trail to an alpine lake where we would only get to spend an hour or so before having to hike back out before dark. My answer was that I'm trying to give her and her little brother experiences in the wilderness where there are no other people, where you hike all day and never see another boot track, a place were solitude still exists, and you can still feel the beating heart of the mountain. I'm pushing her to these places because I believe in her lifetime, that possibility will disappear, the sheeple will come, they will find out best places, then the next best places, then the places that don't even have trails, they will come, wave after wave. Seattle is the fastest growing city in America the last decade. WA is already the second most populous western state, with a thriving economy. Even with all the wilderness areas we have at some point simple math will tip the scale and people will overrun the resource. My guess is that will happen in the next 50 years.
 

Sawtooth

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Oak

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I know that this rapid growth is bad for wildlife and wild places. Our animal populations are already relegated to their most marginal historic habitats. With population growth comes the development, which pushes wildlife even further to the margins. Amazingly, we have been able to increase or at least maintain numbers of some species in the face of this rapid growth. Yet, for some like mule deer and antelope and wild sheep, the consequences have been harsh.

Maybe I had too much nostalgia in my coffee this morning as I drove past multiple new subdivisions here in Bozeman and think about the geese we used to hammer in those fields. Like many Rocky Mountain state residents, I can't help but think that my future resident hunting opportunities are going to change as this population trend continues.
This is the crux of the problem, IMO. Resident/nonresident allocation will be the least of our worries, at least in CO. We are going to struggle to maintain the wildlife populations we have as the population boom persists. Pressure on our public lands and wildlife is growing exponentially as we promote the importance of public lands and the recreation economy. What used to be seasonal pressure from vacationers has turned into a year-around barrage of residents. Summer mountain bikers, hikers, rafters, peak baggers, ATV enthusiasts. Fat bikes on winter range, expanding ski areas, heli-skiing, snowmobiling, backcountry snowboarding. As the large population centers on the Front Range grow, everyone wants to move to the mountains to get away. Technology makes it easier for people to live where they want and work from home. Important wildlife habitat on private lands are being developed, which has a secondary effect of reducing the buffer between private development and public lands. Then there is increased pressure to improve access to those neighboring public lands: trails, special designations, special use permits, etc., etc., etc. The things that attracted us to these places will be loved to death.

Colorado created an OUTDOOR RECREATION INDUSTRY OFFICE in 2015 to promote our recreation economy. This article underscores the work that office does, the rapid growth of the industry as it is promoted, and potential impacts to our wild places. The word "wildlife" does not appear once in the article. Our state wildlife agency should be given the ability to strongly advocate for wildlife under this extreme pressure, yet has largely been neutered for fear of impacting local Western Slope economies. It's the same reason why the agency has been so reluctant to limit OTC elk hunting licenses in the face of increasing pressure on that resource. And since their mission changed with the merging of state parks and wildlife, they have become part of the problem.

I could write on this for days, but don't have the time. I'll reiterate though, allocation of existing licenses will be the least of our concerns some day in the near future if we don't start strongly advocating for the remaining habitat the resource relies upon.
 

Big Fin

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That makes my gut hurt. And to think that is just a small fraction of it in Colorado. Lengthy lists could be compiled in most every Rocky Mountain state. And yet there are some who want expanded use of (insert activity here) without much, if any, regard for wildlife.
 

Bambistew

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There is one thing to say for a bad economy... We have lost population the last two years, and this year is setting up to be the same thing. Tourism is up however, and people are looking for more and more remote places. Luckily there is still lots of room to roam and not see another person.

I don't look forward to going back to MT anymore. Too many people and subdivisions everywhere it seems.
 

Nameless Range

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Interesting links oak.

It seems even more complicated than that. Though much of the west is booming in terms of population as a whole, in terms of individual areas like very rural counties, there are many places that are shrinking, or if they are growing it isn’t meaningful economically.

I am on a Parks, Trails, and Recreation Commission in the semi-rural county in which I live. Our purpose is to steer the development and management of those things in such a way that benefits the county. In the last ten years our county has seen the closure of two large mines and a large state housing center. Economically things are not rosy. So the goal is to bring people here to spend their money. I often find myself a poor committee member, having no desire to advertise the places that I love, for often times my love of those seldom visited chunks of earth comes from the fact that few others love them.

In terms of habitat loss reduction, I think two things that could be very important are aggressive and heavy handed county growth plans as well as conservation groups like RMEF and TNC strategically buying everything they can while they still can. Especially as the larger ranches age out and sell out, as they did where I live. That takes money and members, because in terms of conservation, it’s hard not to feel that acres are king.

No matter what, it’s hard not to despair a bit about it all. Like death, it’s a bleak subject I flinch away from when I think too long on it.
 

LopeHunter

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With the inflated populations come the "perceptions" or maybe better stated, "mis-conceptions" of hunting and hunters in general. People escaping their home state for sake of a "better life" yet bring the politics they seek to escape with them.
The newcomers will buy a home in winter at edge of town on a farm that was recently subdivided for dozens of homes. The newcomers want to experience a bit of nature after fleeing some big city where increasing crime and hour-plus commutes and cost of housing was preventing them from being happy. The same newcomers will complain as warms up that first spring about the smell from the neighboring cows upwind. They will complain there is a lack of food choices, cultural performances and other distractions money will buy in a big city. The same city they fled that has the crime and commutes and housing issues. I would think the percentage of big game hunters is 10% or less of what see in the resident population. I split time in two large western cities and none of my neighbors or co-workers big game hunt. None of my grad school class hunted or they never mentioned it at the school in Los Angeles. None of my co-workers in L.A. hunted or did not mention it. Some of them fished. I did not buy a "you should be hunting" billboard to put up in L.A. when I lived there but when big city types move to Wyoming then they are all too happy to put up billboards against hunting. The newcomers vote and support initiatives and run for office and change is coming just as has in CO as the population became more urban and transplants arrived.
 

Pelican

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Most of the deer and elk herds in Colorado seem to have survived thus far due to most of the population increase occurring on the front range where animals don't need to migrate long distances to survive the winter. Unfortunately, we may have already passed the point of no return for some herds (elk in the Eagle Valley)? The elk survived with I-70 inhibiting access to the better winter range. The elk survived with I-70 and development. The year-round recreation seems to have pushed them too far. I see the same thing happening in the Roaring Fork Valley in the near future.
I also don't see CPW and conservation organizations being able to compete with developement when the price of land is so high in some areas of Colorado. We may be to the point where a form of wildlife triage is the prudent alternative. Save what we can save instead of trying to save an elk herd that is, maybe doomed. I'm not suggesting we give up, but I think we may be to that point for some herds. If CO can't be a good example, maybe we can be an example of "don't let this happen to your elk".
 

Bullshot

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Although I am from the east, I share a lot of the ominous feelings about population growth out west. I have been going out there for over 20 years and have seen the changes. But there are things that could be done. More Traditional seasons. Less road development. Less ATV's. If it provides any hope to those of you longing for solitude, know this... I am living in arguably the most densely populated state in the nation. And I work outdoors about 1/2 the time. I rarely see many people off trails and in the most difficult/rugged areas. And the farthest you can get from a road or trail out here is about a mile. Usually much, much less. So it holds true that most people, no matter the population, will stick near development and access points, leaving vast quantities of land to those more motivated to go for it. It won't eliminate the overall trend, but I suspect that wilderness experiences will still be available for a long time to come, so long as trailbuilding and motorized access is controlled somewhat more than it is now.
 
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onpoint

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Another midwestern transplant here , who showed up in Montana young, eager and naive in 1984. Got to see it then - that's why it hurts so bad to see it now.
In my not so humble and sadly negative opinion - there is no hope for "solutions". People will keep breeding (at a more than necessary rate) and will keep moving around and bringing their shit with 'em.
I have spent a lot of years 7 days a week either working or recreating in/on public (and private) wildlife/fish habitat, with those very fish and wildlife - basically out there almost 24/7 for going on 4 decades:
The changes are far greater than most can notice.
Yup, the increase in human population is the single most impactful culprit.
I did my part - I didn't breed.....
My plan is to leave the Urban Montana scene (relatively soon) and move to a place less impacted, but I will unfortunately be just "that asshole from Bozeman who just moved in".
Paraphrasing Leopold, " to what avail forty freedoms without a blank place on the map" - I have no use for my "freedoms" without those blank places. Which now are much smaller and far fewer.
I hope to live somewhere I can walk out the door with my dogs - who have the scent of roosters in their nostrils as they leave the yard, 16 gauge in hand, and empty horizons to view.
You old farts who don't have much time left might consider doing something similar - just don't go where I'm gonna go.
Hopefully I will won't have access to the internet - like and ignore buttons, memes, Sytes, "Merica" video's, etc:D.............................
 
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