Higher hunting, fishing fees likely, but not double
Contrary to some portrayals of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s intentions, the agency is not looking to double the price of hunting and fishing licenses, state wildlife officials are assuring.
Yet, some changes will likely be needed if the agency is to maintain existing wildlife programs, keep up with infrastructure needs and meet the growing demand for new and restored programs that have been cut over the years, the agency maintains as it continues to review alternatives.
Recently, Parks and Wildlife held 18 meetings across the state to gather feedback from sportsmen and other members of the public regarding possible fee increases.
Contrary to what was presented in some media reports about the agency proposing a “doubling of fees,” Mike Porras, public information officer for Parks and Wildlife Northwest Region, said the intent was to provide a variety of possible scenarios, from additional budget cuts to fee increases.
“Much of the feedback we received came from those who understood and agreed that there is a need for a license fee increase,” Porras said.
But a doubling of fees is not on the table, he said.
Between the input received at meetings and targeted outreach to state resident license holders as well as random input on the Parks and Wildlife website, there is some level of support for increasing fees, he said.
Just how much is what the agency needs to work out as it looks toward the 2017-18 budget and a possible bill next legislative session to adjust resident hunting and fishing license fees.
“Part of the problem we have experienced is the fact that no proposal exists,” Porras said. “Conversations this far have been limited to ‘how do you feel about’ scenarios only.”
What is known is that Parks and Wildlife anticipates budget shortfalls in the coming years that could be offset by increasing resident license fees.
The last hunting and fishing license fee increase occurred in 2006 after legislative approval the year before.
Since 2009, the agency has cut or defunded 50 positions and cut $40 million from its operating budget. Wildlife managers have cautioned that additional cuts are inevitable without an increase in revenue.
Among some of the budget cuts was money for the West Slope Mule Deer Project, funding for shooting ranges, maintenance at state wildlife areas and other programs for which there is some level of demand for reinstating, Porras said.
Approximately 80 percent of funding for state wildlife programs is derived from hunting, fishing and recreational shooting. But the fees have not kept up with inflation, Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Bob Broscheid and board chairman Chris Castilian pointed out in a recent guest opinion published in the Denver Post.
Currently, a five-day resident elk hunting license costs $45, a nine-day deer license costs $30 and an annual fishing license is $25. No dollars from hunting or fishing licenses go toward parks purposes, as those funds are kept separate.
“A four-day lift ticket at a Colorado ski area can cost more than $400,” Broscheid and Castilian noted for comparison’s sake, adding that “current rates for residents may be a false bargain if revenues can’t sustain the programs allowing us to enjoy Colorado’s wildlife heritage.”
At the public meetings held in August and September, Porras said 86 percent of attendees said they would be willing to pay more for a fishing or hunting license.
Among the resident license holders who were contacted outside the meetings to weigh in on the issue, support was lower but still over 50 percent.
Those responding randomly on the agency website were the least supportive. Still, about 47 percent said they would pay more for a fishing license and 49 percent were willing to pay more for a hunting license, Porras said.
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