OUT: Sunday Column December 21, 2008

Sportsmen given license gift by Division of Wildlife

An early gift from the Division of Wildlife is the three-month extension on your fishing, small game and fishing/small game combination licenses.

Because of a regulations change aimed at making life easier for late-season hunters, the annual renewal date for fishing and small-game licenses is changing to
April 1, starting in 2009.

Your current licenses won’t expire until March 31, which means an extra three months before buying your new tags.

The old calendar-year system required a waterfowl hunter or small-game hunter to renew a license midway through the season, a task that often got overlooked during the busy holiday times.

If you decide to purchase or gift a 2009 fishing, small game or combination license for Christmas, the new license is good for 15 months, not expiring until April 1, 2010.

Fewer people purchased fishing licenses this year, according to DOW license section manager Henrietta Turner.

Turner said fishing license sales dropped by more than 23,600 licenses from Dec. 1, 2007, to Nov. 27 this year.

“That equates to $330,904,” Turner said. “And (fishing/small-game) combination licences were down, too, by 469.”

That’s a decline of $12,389, Turner said.

It follows Turner’s recent report that revenue from elk and deer tags fell by a combined $3.2 million this year.

The bright spots in the revenue department were small game licenses, up a miniscule 11 licenses, and pronghorn tags, which jumped by 1,515 with an increase in the harvest quota.

How long will deer remember a free handout? That’s the question being pondered this winter by DOW officials in Gunnison, where last winter an emergency feeding program provided meals to an estimated 9,000 deer.

With snow starting to pile up around the Gunnison Basin, biologists expect to see some deer return to the feeding sites.

“Like all animals, deer are creatures of habit and they remember where they find easily available sources of food,” said J Wenum, area wildlife manager in Gunnison. “When we see them at the feeding sites this year, depending on the winter conditions, it may not mean they are in trouble.”

Because some of the feeding sites coincided with historic winter range areas, deer likely will congregate at those spots but simply being there doesn’t mean they need feeding.

“The feeling is the range is in pretty good shape,” Wenum said. “But once the snow flies and the deer are pushed down, people will be seeing the deer on those sites.”

He said it’s unlikely the Gunnison Basin will see a repeat of last winter, but the DOW nevertheless will be monitoring closely the weather and range conditions.

“A feeding operation is authorized only under very severe conditions,” Wenum said. “Deer are well-adapted to the tough Gunnison winters. But last year was certainly one of the most extreme winters experienced in the Gunnison Basin.”

The Colorado River, with half of its flows already tapped for Front Range consumption, faces a new threat from east of the Continental Divide.

According to Colorado Trout Unlimited, the Windy Gap Firming Project proposes sucking 24 percent of what’s left in the Colorado and diverting those headwater flows to a planned reservoir feeding Longmont, Broomfield, Greeley and Loveland.

All this, apparently, with the blessings of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers, both of which have final say on the project.

The diversion is planned from late May through August, the most-critical period in terms of providing adequate water flows and temperature for the fishery.

Trout Unlimited questions the project since the backers have not sought alternative ways to get water for those towns.

“We want to see more meaningful conservation efforts on the Front Range and meaningful mitigation on the Western Slope,” said Trout Unlimited Executive Director David Nickum.

Adding another major diversion to a river that only a few years ago almost ran dry near Granby is “pushing the system very close to its breaking point,” Nickum said.

He doesn’t completely dismiss the proposal, saying there might be ways to meet Front Range water demands while simultaneously taking care of the river.

“It’s going to take a concerted effort on everyone’s part, including some re-operating of the existing system,” Nickum said.

More information is available at http://www.cotrout.org.


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