The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission on Thursday wrestled with a mysterious local decline in elk calf populations, announced a campaign to find new funding sources, and voted to keep hunting and fishing fees the same for 2018.
The meeting at the Cortez Conference Center included Bob Randall, executive director for the Department of Natural Resources; Don Brown, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture; Christine Sage, chairwoman of the Southern Ute Tribe; and regional wildlife managers.
In the audience, about 20 residents joined a dozen regional CPW officers in uniform for the all-day meeting.
The state Wildlife Commission oversees the state’s wildlife resources and sets policies for hunting, fishing and recreation. Meetings are held each month in a different town and are broadcast live online.
Funding has been an issue for Parks and Wildlife, which relies on recreation fees and severance taxes from oil and gas to fund programs.
The tax revenues were drastically reduced after British Petroleum won a lawsuit in 2016 against Colorado for overtaxing the industry, officials said. Revenues to the Department of Natural Resources dropped from $300 million in 2014 to $19 million in 2016-17, according to data from the Office of State Planning and Budgeting as reported by Colorado Politics.
CPW is rethinking how to fund programs into the future, reported Madeleine West, assistant director for Parks and Wildlife. New Mexico is also experiencing low calf survival rates, according New Mexico Wildlife. The Department of Game and Fish is also capturing calves and tracking them with ear-tag transmitters to study mortality reasons.
“We need to shore up significant shortfalls,” she said. “There are more demands being asked of the agency, whether it is wildlife management or increased interest in recreational opportunities.”
A study is being conducted to come up with new funding sources. Throughout the summer, agency officials will be brainstorming along with user groups on ideas. For example, some user groups who pay fees into the system, such as hunters, anglers, ATVs and boaters, wonder why others like mountain bikers do not.
At the July 10-11 wildlife commission meeting in Crested Butte, there will be a public forum on finding solutions to the funding crisis, including presentations by a panel of six agency experts and public input. The forum will be broadcast live and will take comments and questions electronically.
Wildlife officials have launched an elk study on the Uncompahgre Plateau and near Trinidad to determine why the elk-calf ratio has been dropping in Southern Colorado.
Cow-calf ratios of 40 calves per 100 cows indicate a sustained elk population. But in recent years, herd surveys south of Interstate 70 are below that benchmark, said CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski, indicating local elk populations are declining.
As part of an effort to figure out why, area Wildlife Manager Matt Thorpe explained that cows are being electronically tagged to indicate a calf has been born. Researchers then locate the calf and install a collar so they can track it and determine mortality causes.
“Cow-calf ratios have been down for several years, and cutting licenses to hunt cows has not translated to growth, so this study hopes to find answers,” Thorpe said.
Predation pressure from bears, coyotes, eagles and mountain lions could be a factor, as could reduced habitat due to development, stress on the animals during the hunting season and disease.
New Mexico is also experiencing low calf-cow rates, according New Mexico Wildlife. In the Mount Taylor area, cow-calf rates have been 20 to 30 per 100 cows in recent years, which is below the benchmark of 40 calves per 100 cows needed for a healthy elk population. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has also been capturing calves and tracking them with transmitters to study mortality reasons.
Also at the meeting, the commission voted to freeze current hunting and fishing license fees in place through the remainder of calendar year 2018, including the wildlife management education surcharge. Without this action, new fees would have gone into effect in August.
In response to the 416 Fire evacuations, CPW Director Bob Randall reported that all campsites at state parks in Mancos, Ridgway and Navajo Lake will be opened up to fire evacuees if they need a place to go. He said the camping price will be reduced to half price for evacuees, but CPW hopes to pass an emergency regulation to make them free of charge.
This story is part one of a two-part series. The follow-up includes presentations for awards, herd management information and public comment.