DENVER – A measure that would increase the cost of hunting, fishing and exploring Colorado’s state parks has cleared the state House of Representatives, but questions about its implications mount as it heads to the Senate.
House Bill 1321, which would allow the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife to increase the cap on fees for hunting and fishing licenses for state residents by 50 percent and gradually increase the price over three years, was cleared by the House on a 42-22 bipartisan vote.
While the license cap increase is the highlight, the bill also would increase the fines for hunting or fishing without a license, and allows the CPW to increase entrance fees for state parks. It also would require the purchase of a Aquatic Nuisance Species sticker for boats, the price of which varies depending on the type and size.
The bill is a comprehensive attempt to deal with a 22 percent decrease in buying power experienced by CPW since fees for residents were last increased in 2005.
To head off finding itself in that position again, the bill would require that fees adjust with inflation if they reach the new cap.
“This bill really is to allow CPW to continue to provide the outdoor opportunities it has provided,” said Doug Vilsack, legislative liaison for the Department of Natural Resources.
While there is widespread support from outdoorsman’s groups, there are concerns about the scope of the measure.
The conversation in summer 2016 was for increasing the price of licenses twofold, and while this has been reduced, the additional provisions brought questions from Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo.
“What really drives the essence of bad taste in this bill is ‘we have a bill, it’s before the general assembly, let’s throw everything we can into it,’” Garcia said.
That is unfair to Coloradans as it doesn’t take into account the additional costs paid to visit state lands, he said, such as fuel for a vehicle, food and equipment.
“If I’m going to go out there and take my boys fishing, it’s more than just the fishing license I have to buy,” he said.
Because of the expanded scope and the late introduction of the measure, Garcia believes there needs to more public outreach.
Vilsack disagreed, saying he has been talking with legislators since the beginning of the session about HB 1321, and CPW conducted 18 public meetings where Coloradans could weigh in.
Garcia acknowledged there were talks between the Sportsman’s caucus, which is a group of legislators who identify with outdoorsmanship, but said they fell short of the stakeholder process a bill typically goes through.
“They’re on the record saying ‘there’s no pending legislation, we’re just having a conversation,’ all of a sudden you get a 32-page bill dropped in the House.”
“It is a long bill and a lot to digest, but that’s the job of legislators,” Vilsack said.
Garcia said he is not opposed to HB 1321, provided it has safeguards to ensure the funds are used for budget items that are truly needs of CPW and not wants.
He wants to ensure the money does not go toward purchasing additional land, which the CPW may not be able to care for, he said. “Historically that has been their (CPW’s) behavior.”
He also wants to rethink the nuisance species charges. But Vilsack said that is perhaps the most important portion of the bill.
“This is imperative to make sure we can keep the quality of life and things we do here in Colorado,” he said.
On Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service announced it was closing Lemon Reservoir to motorized boats because there was no money for boat inspections necessary to guard against the introduction of invasive species.
The stickers required in HB 1321 would fund such inspections for CPW.
Without funding, other reservoirs could close for want of inspection stations, Vilsack said. That could include some of the largest ones in Colorado.
“We were talking Grand Lake,” he said.
HB 1321 heads to the Senate for consideration.