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Wildlife is losing ground

EAGLE COUNTY-In the late 1970s, Eagle resident Paula Fothergill said it wasn’t uncommon to run into massive herds of deer or elk on Interstate 70 as she made her way to Denver. But over the years, as more people moved into the valley, the herds retreated and shrunk.”When you build in their areas, it creates an invisible barrier,” said Fothergill, a chapter president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “The herds become skittish; they spook easier. It stresses them, and it’s happening all over the country.”As animals run out of room, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is raising money to buy land. Hunters and fisherman will have to buy a habitat stamp come January for $5. It will cost $10 for non-hunters and fishers who use wildlife areas.Those who don’t spend time in wildlife areas can still contribute by buying a stamp. Randy Hampton, division spokesman, said he hopes people will step up and buy stamps. “Anyone that lives in Colorado can look out their window and see what’s going on with habitat, human growth, development,” Hampton said. “I think people will say, ‘Gee, I want to do something.'”Fothergill said whether people are tromping through the wildlife areas or not, supporting the stamp is imperative. “I think a lot of people have a disconnect, living in their cozy little houses, about what it takes for animals to thrive in their natural habitat,” she said. “If they don’t support this stamp, they’re going to see them less and less.”‘Why people come here’Dennis Buechler, a volunteer with the Colorado Wildlife Federation, said the stamp was necessary because the Division of Wildlife has no other way of earning money. Unfunded by taxpayer dollars, the division relies almost solely on hunting and fishing licenses for revenue. “There was not enough money in the budget to acquire new land in the face of rapidly developing areas,” Buechler said. “We supported it strongly. There’s a great need for it.”The stamp could raise $2.3 million each year. Until 2010, 60 percent of the money will be spent on buying or leasing sage land, which big game depends on for cover and food.Despite most hunters and fisherman supporting the stamp, David Petersen, the state chair for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said some feel like they’re being asked to pay an unfair share, especially since most hunters don’t hunt on wildlife land. “There’s a bit of inequity here, but most people think the (hunting) license fees are a bargain,” Petersen said. “Most don’t mind paying a little extra.”Groups hope the money will keep the industry making lots of money. “If you start losing the wildlife, you start losing the people who enjoy the wildlife, and it’s a big part of why people come here, why people live here,” said Cindy Cohagen, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. What about the little guys?With 60 percent of the stamp’s profits going toward big game habitat, some environmentalists were left asking “What about the other plants and animals?”The land purchases are going to do a lot more than benefit deer, elk and moose, Hampton said. Among the birds, rodents, bobcats and rabbits that depend on the sage land, the black-footed ferret also calls it home. Once thought the be extinct, the black-footed ferret is making a comeback, but is still considered one of the most endangered critters in North America. “We don’t look at this as one species rising up against another species,” Hampton said. “When one species benefits, all the species that use that land rise.”Sage land is rapidly disappearing as oil and gas companies move into Western Colorado, Hampton said. At the same time, Hampton said the division can buy sage land because it’s not coveted by developers. Pat Tucker, a local area wildlife manager, reminded there is still another 40 percent of funds that can be used for other purposes. “It’s economic, it’s education, it’s photography and other intrinsic benefits – wildlife is a lot of what makes Colorado what it is,” Tucker said. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or nfrey@vaildaily.com.


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