DENVER - Ranchers and hunters agreed to hold their fire Thursday on a bill about damage caused by wildlife.
Long-simmering tensions between wildlife enthusiasts and landowners boiled over three weeks ago during the first hearing for Senate Bill 24, which would require the state Division of Wildlife to respond promptly to complaints of wildlife damage.
Complaints increased during last year's snowy winter, when deer and elk munched on ranchers' hay stockpiles, said Troy Bredenkamp, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau.
So the Farm Bureau asked Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, to run the bill. It also would have let landowners apply for game-damage payments if they collect up to $2,500 a year in hunting fees. Currently, the cap is $100.
The Division of Wildlife estimated the original bill would result in 578 new damage claims, costing $2.5 million a year.
But the Farm Bureau and DOW struck a compromise Thursday morning that keeps the $100 cap in place. It also gives wildlife officers two business days to respond to a landowner question, five business days to help a landowner come up with a game-control plan and 15 business days to provide materials such as fencing.
"It's a baby step," Bredenkamp said.
However, it's a good sign to agricultural landowners that wildlife officers now have a timeline to respond to complaints.
"I don't see how that could be a bad thing by anybody's measurement," Bredenkamp said.
Sen. Jim Isgar, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced the compromise in amendments 8 and 10 during a hearing Thursday.
"You failed to mention Amendment 11," said White, the bill sponsor. "Amendment 11 is the amendment where I shoot myself if we don't get this together."
Isgar's committee approved the bill 7-0.
But wildlife groups aren't happy, although they didn't actively fight the bill Thursday.
"It was all about trying to keep a bill alive and have it be essentially meaningless," said Kent Ingram of the Sportsman's Advisory Group.
The controversy has made hunters and anglers worry about the $2 million Colorado already pays in game-damage claims, more than any other state, Ingram said.
A surcharge on hunting and fishing licenses pays for the claims through the Habitat Partnership Program.
"Every dollar that comes out of the Division of Wildlife is another dollar that's not available for fisheries, for biology, for wildlife in general," Ingram said.
The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee. If it survives that committee and the full Senate, it will go to the House and a likely hearing in the House Agriculture Committee.