Guest opinion: Get involved in supporting conservation and CPW | PostIndependent.com
Dan Schwartz

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Guest opinion: Get involved in supporting conservation and CPW

The time has come for the sportsmen and women of Colorado to get engaged and voice their support for conservation.

For generations, Coloradans have relied on the North American model of conservation to manage the fish and wildlife of the state. This model has proven time and time again to be the most responsible, feasible and scientifically sound means of managing wildlife on public lands. As sportsmen we have all had a hand in funding this tremendously successful movement, but now we have entered the crossroads and as a conservation community, we need to get active and involved to save what we have inherited and cherished for decades.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is tasked with the management of fish and wildlife in the state, and its operating budget is funded almost entirely from sportsmen. License sales from hunters and anglers alone make up 62 percent of CPW's revenues. The Pittman Roberts federal excise tax, collected mostly from the sales of sporting goods, makes up 17 percent of CPW's budget, and the remaining balance is derived from a combination of GOCO funds, grants and donations.

Hunting, fishing, state park users and wildlife viewers inject $6.1 billion into Colorado's economy annually, and the hunters and anglers of this state collectively fund the agency responsible for managing this vital resource. There are no dollars from the state's general fund allocated to Colorado's second-largest economic driver. Unfortunately, CPW's governing commission has no authority to change the agency's own funding mechanism, and resident hunting and fishing license fees have not increased in Colorado to help support CPW since 2005.

Currently, when you purchase an annual fishing license for $26, you gain access to thousands of acre feet of public fisheries managed and stocked for use 365 days of the year. That equates to a little more than 7 cents a day, and when you purchase an elk tag for $46 and hunt the short five-day first rifle season, you're hunting the premier big game species of America for only $9 per day. Compare that to any other recreational activity you may enjoy in the state and you'll soon discover the reason for the agency's financial peril.

In 2015, Colorado Parks and Wildlife created a strategic plan to address its budgetary shortfalls, and last summer it hosted 22 public meetings to discuss their financial issues with their users. Over 85 percent of the sportsmen in these meetings voiced support for increasing hunting and fishing license fees to fund wildlife operations. Fifty-eight percent of those in support were more than willing to double the cost of hunting and fishing licenses. After collecting public input from over 3,000 people from every corner of the state, CPW approached our state legislators with a solution.

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House Bill 1321 will be introduced to the House Agriculture Committee April 17 to allow the Parks and Wildlife Commission limited authority to address current financial challenges. The bill will allow the commission to increase license fees up to 50 percent above their current prices, adjust license fees to keep consistent with the consumer price index, as well as recoup cost associated with the application process and license purchases.

This bill not only addresses the financial sustainability of CPW but more importantly allows our successful conservation movement to carry on. Hunters and anglers should have the loudest voice for conservation in our state, and by sportsmen stepping up to the plate and increasing their own cost to fund CPW, it proves we are demanding it.

Take the time to get engaged and be a part of the fight for conservation; call or email your representatives and senators at the State Capitol and ask that they support House Bill 1321.

Dan Schwartz is the owner of Ripple Creek Lodge in Meeker.