BLM rule changes could have big effect on camping hunters

A little-noticed change in camping regulations on public lands in Colorado has some hunters worried.

The new ruling, which was reported by this paper last summer after appearing in the June 10, 2010, Federal Register, continues a 14-day camping limit but now requires campers at the end of those 14 days to move at least 30 air miles from the initial campsite.

It also requires campers to stay away from the first site for at least 30 days before returning.

The old rule, which dated from 1990, required only a three-mile move and a seven-day departure.

Several reasons were behind the rule, including combating illegal campers, basically squatters, who took up long-term residence on public lands near ski resorts and other places where jobs were available but housing was not.

It also sought to stop people from taking over and preventing other users from enjoying public lands.

“I believe it not only was trying to get at the (squatter) issue but also the question of public land being for everyone,” said Don Bruns, recreation planner with the Colorado state office of the Bureau of Land Management. “I believe there were several communities around Colorado who were having similar problems and this rule attempted to address their concerns.”

The new rule is specific to BLM lands in Colorado and brings the state into compliance with camping regulations on public lands in other western states.

The various national forests around the state have separate but similar camping and dispersed recreation use regulations.

Earlier this week, former outfitter Dick Pennington of Grand Junction and Denny Behrens, executive director of the Colorado Mule Deer Association, presented a proposed amendment to the rule that would allow legally licensed hunters to stay longer in a camp than 14 days.

“We’d like to see hunters allowed to move into camp seven days prior to the season, stay for the season and then move off two days after the season ends,” said Pennington, who remains active in the Colorado Outfitters Association.

The long-time outfitter, who sold his operation 10 years ago after spending 38 years in the business, listed archery hunters along with bear and bighorn sheep hunters as hunters likely to require a lengthy camping exemption.

Commercial outfitters already are exempt from the 14-day limit.

Behrens, whose mule deer group is very active in developing more opportunities for young hunters, said the camping rule also might become a deterrent in recruiting new hunters.

“Every time another hurdle is thrown up, there’s the chance someone will just say, ‘That’s too much,’ and not go hunting,” Behrens said.

According to the Federal Register, none of these concerns were voiced during the official comment period.

“I recently had some internal e-mails hit my desk, in fact just (Tuesday) I had a couple,” said John Bierk, chief of law enforcement with the BLM state office in Lakewood. “But that was the first I was aware there was a concern with the hunting community.”

Both Pennington and Behrens said they hadn’t noticed when the ruling was announced.

Pennington said he first become aware of the regulation when he was approached by a U.S. Forest Service officer during last fall’s hunting season.

The BLM rule does not affect current occupancy/use rules on National Forest lands.

Campers on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest are limited to 14 consecutive days in one spot and 28 days on any one forest.

Campers must move at least three road miles at the end of their 14-day stay.

Behrens envisioned a scenario with a hunter coming into camp on BLM land a few days prior to the season, spending a week or so scouting and them being required to move midway through a 21-day hunting season.

A 30-mile move easily could put a hunter in an entirely different game unit, one for which he or she doesn’t have a license.

“How do you convince a law officer that the animal you have hanging in camp was legally shot 30 miles away? In a different unit?” Behrens asked. “It probably won’t happen, but what if it did?”

Bierk said hunters were inadvertently left out of the discussions when the ruling was being formed.

“Long-term hunters got caught up in that without it being addressed,” he said. “And when it went out (for public comment) as a proposed rule we didn’t have any comments.”

The law isn’t unchangeable but doing so will take time, he said.

Each BLM field office and the individual law officers are allowed some leeway in handling specific cases, Bierk said.

“We really haven’t yet discussed this so there’s not much I can say right now but I can’t see it being something we can’t work around,” Bierk said. “But how we do that is something we’ll have to discuss.”


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