Give CPW authority to sustain operations
Since 2009, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has cut or defunded 50 positions and reduced $40 million from its wildlife budget, including $10 million in 2015 alone.
Those cuts have taken their toll. The department already has a backlog of maintenance issues and things will only get worse unless it can address the financial shortfall.
Just to maintain current operations, CPW forecasts needing an additional $14 million annually for wildlife and $6.5 million annually for parks.
Since it’s largely self-funded — through hunting and fishing licenses, park passes, camping permits and boat and off-highway vehicle registrations — fee increases are needed for the department to fulfill its mission.
But under current law, only the Legislature can set fees related to wildlife management. A bill that has passed the House and is now before the Senate would change that. House Bill 1321 doesn’t include any immediate fee increases, but provides CPW with limited authority to increase fees over time.
The fee hikes would be phased in, capped not to exceed a certain percentage over existing fees and then tied to the Consumer Price Index keep pace with inflation.
“We don’t even know what the fees will be,” Ron Velarde, CPW’s regional manager for northwest Colorado, told the Sentinel’s editorial board Friday. “We’re going to use the whole next year to get together with sportsmen and gather input about the fee structure.”
The additional revenue would allow the department to repair high-priority dams. Without the repairs, some reservoirs may have to be closed to the public. The state’s fish hatcheries are overdue for renovations, too. The legislative proposal would allow CPW to create a watercraft registration fee to help pay for the Aquatic Nuisance Species Program. Without it, boating on certain lakes and reservoirs would come to an end due to a lack of inspectors.
More generally, the revenue from higher fees would support public access for hunting and fishing in Colorado and improve wildlife habitat and park facilities. Wildlife-related activities are an indispensable part of the tourism machinery of the state accounting for an annual economic impact of $6.1 billion in Colorado.
Transferring authority to set fees from the Legislature to the CPW Commission makes sense, since no state tax dollars are involved. Members are appointed by the governor provide policy oversight and represent the public. Setting affordable fees in accordance with CPW’s needs seems like a reasonable blend of discharging those duties.