- Dsdugan via Wikimedia Commons
- Dome Rock State Wildlife Area is among those outdoor spaces that will require a fishing or hunting license to access, starting July 1.
Imagine that you've paid a hefty price to visit a popular amusement park — Disneyland, for example — and when you get there it's so crowded you have a hard time doing what you'd like to do on your visit. Pretty stressful, right? Now imagine that you find out that most of the other people there paid nothing to visit. They are there enjoying themselves while you, who paid a fee to get in, can't. Or, even if you can, why did you have to pay, and they didn't?
Now, imagine that you're a hunter or an angler in Colorado, have paid a (sometimes hefty) fee for a hunting or fishing license and when you go to use your license in a Colorado Parks and Wildlife State Wildlife Area, you find hikers, runners, cyclists and families using the same land, contributing to wear and tear, but they paid nothing. And sometimes, there are so many recreational users, it would either be unsafe to hunt, or the other users are scaring away the game you've got a license to hunt. Seems kind of unfair, doesn't it?
This is the dilemma facing hunters and anglers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) when it comes to many State Wildlife Areas (SWAs). According to CPW Southeast Area Wildlife Manager Frank McGee, SWAs are set aside for "wildlife habitat and for wildlife-related recreation to the extent that it doesn't interfere with the wildlife habitat value." Wildlife-related recreation is typically hunting and fishing, but can also include wildlife-viewing and bird-watching. But while you need a license to go on a SWA to hunt and fish, you don't need one to watch wildlife, which along with hiking or cycling, creates a funding disparity.
According to McGee, CPW created a "Habitat Stamp" program in 2006 at the urging of hunters and anglers as a funding source for protecting game areas. The funds from the stamp program allow CPW to get conservation easements, for example, which allow access to what otherwise may be inaccessible game land. The habitat stamp was also considered as a way to get non-game users to pay for the use of these state lands.
The idea was that a non-game user would purchase the stamp alone, while hunters and anglers are required to buy one with their license. McGee said that very few non-game users ever bought the stamp, and the stamp itself caused other problems. Since CPW is not funded by state tax dollars, it relies solely on user fees and licenses, along with money from a variety of federal funds, such as the Pittman-Robertson Act., the Dingell-Johnson Act , and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The federal funds are generated by excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and hunting and fishing gear and doled out to the states by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.
According to McGee, one of the conditions attached to the granting of those funds to the states is that if the agency collects money for purposes other than for the programs it is intended for, such as an entry fee to a wildlife area, the state must return a portion of the federal funding it received. In effect, if CPW charged an entry fee to a SWA, and then had to return federal money, it would be collecting money it would just have to give back. The Habitat Stamp, when purchased without a game or fishing license, can be viewed as an entry fee, and run afoul of federal regulations.
So, in an effort to make sure everyone pays equally to use SWAs, CPW will be requiring all users to purchase a hunting or fishing license, effective July 1. And since state parks and wildlife are two separate entities under the same roof, in much the same way that a hunting license doesn't get you into a state park, your state parks pass can't be a substitute for a license to enter an SWA.
Dome Rock State Wildlife Area near Divide, and directly adjacent to Mueller State Park, is one nearby example, and not a unique one. Lake Pueblo State Park also directly adjoins not one, but two SWAs. In my previous column regarding this issue and the purchase of some acreage in what is now Dome Rock, some clarification: The land purchased by the Nature Conservancy amounts to less than 10 percent of the SWA, and it was then turned over to what at the time was the Division of Wildlife. Since it was intended for wildlife use, all parts of Dome Rock are included in the new fee requirement.
So, what will this cost the non-game user? The least expensive option for Colorado residents would be to purchase a single day fishing license, for $13.90 per day, and the required Habitat Stamp for $10.13 per year. A yearly fishing license can be purchased for $35.17, however senior citizens (over age 65) can get the annual license for $9.85 and are also exempt from the Habitat Stamp requirement.
As for me, my fishing license and habitat stamp are on the way.
Be Good. Do Good Things.
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for almost 28 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (@hikingguide), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: email@example.com.