Starting July 1, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will require anyone who enters a state wildlife area – like at Perins Peak, Bodo and Haviland Lake – to have a hunting or fishing license, a move intended to help pay for wildlife conservation amid funding shortfalls.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which manages those areas, is implementing the new rule so more segments of the community shoulder the costs of maintaining lands for wildlife habitat, said spokesman Joe Lewandowski.
“All Coloradans value wildlife and hopefully be willing to spend something on that,” he said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is not funded by general tax revenues like other state departments. Instead, CPW is supported by user fees, mostly hunters and anglers who buy licenses, which in turn, fund wildlife conservation in the state.
But in recent years, CPW has experienced budget shortfalls. As a result, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, recently voted in favor of the new rule.
“We have fewer people hunting, and those are the dollars that pay for wildlife management across the state,” Lewandowski said. “We want more people in Colorado taking ownership of the wildlife we all love.”
The new rule applies to all state wildlife areas and state trust lands managed by CPW.
In Durango, that means anyone looking to recreate at Perins Peak, Haviland Lake, Pastorius Reservoir or hike the popular Smelter Mountain trail in Bodo State Wildlife Area will need to carry a hunting or fishing license.
Around Montezuma County, it applies to Summit, Narraguinnep and Joe Moore reservoirs, as well as Dolores River State Wildlife Area. Near Pagosa Springs, the rule applies to Echo Canyon and Williams Creek wildlife areas.
The cheapest option of the two is a fishing license, which runs about $38, though the agency does offer day-use and short-term passes.
“As the population continues to grow in the Four Corners and throughout Colorado, working on wildlife conservation becomes more and more important,” Lewandowski said. “But that work carries substantial costs.”
At the outset, Lewandowski said wildlife officers will take the first year to focus on education with the public, instead of writing tickets.
“We certainly know people aren’t going to be happy about it, we’ve already had complaints around the state from folks,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough thing to explain to people. But we have costs, and we have to pay for those costs.”
A ticket for being on a state wildlife area without a license is $139.50
Across the country, the historical way to fund wildlife conservation has been mainly through hunters and anglers. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fees and taxes on these groups account for 60% of funding to state wildlife agencies.
While fishing licenses are increasing, hunting, which is by far a bigger revenue source, is on the decline. A recent study from the Fish and Wildlife Service found just 5% of Americans 16 years or older hunt, about half of what it was 50 years ago.
As a result, there’s been a strong effort to look for other sources of funding for wildlife conservation. With outdoor recreation as popular as ever, some agencies have been looking to tweak user-pay models for hikers, mountain bikers and other recreationists.
“The bottom line is, funding from sportsmen will not likely cover all the conservation work being done,” said Dan Parkinson with Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The base has to be expanded to include other people who enjoy wildlife.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife became a merged agency in 2011, but the two departments are financially separate. Licenses, fees and permits account for nearly 70% of the wildlife division’s revenue, which all told is about $70 million.
According to CPW data, about 50% of the wildlife division’s expenditures is on staff salaries and benefits, with about 33% directed toward operating costs. CPW operates numerous hatcheries across the state, manages big-game populations and undertakes species restoration, like native cutthroat trout.
CPW manages about 350 state wildlife areas across the state.