Colorado’s license cap is ‘unfair’

An attorney representing the Colorado Outfitters Association has questioned the state’s method of distributing big-game hunting licenses to nonresident hunters,  saying it could be unconstitutional.

“We have real concerns with the current (license) allocations,” said Kent Holsinger, speaking to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission during the August commission meeting in Fort Collins. “We believe the current system is unreasonable and unfair and that it restricts the opportunity for people to come to Colorado to hunt.”

Holsinger, a Denver attorney whose website says his firm specializes in lands, wildlife and water issues, said the present system of allocating in-demand licenses to nonresident hunters “could be subject to challenge under the Colorado (Administrative Procedures Act) and perhaps under the Colorado Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.”

The statement came as part of the commission’s preliminary discussion on regulations governing the 2015-2019 big-game hunting seasons.

Recordings from the meeting are available at the Parks and Wildlife website, cpw.state.co.us. Under “About Us,” click on commission meetings.

Holsinger said the outfitters association was particularly concerned about the commission’s policy of having a “soft cap” for certain nonresident licenses.

A soft cap does not guarantee how many licenses are available for nonresidents hunters.

Citing possible benefits to state and local economies as well as benefits to the state’s wildlife management, Holsinger said the outfitters’ association “would be thrilled if the commission would consider a 64/40 allocation resident to nonresident allocation with a hard cap.”

In 2005, the commission adopted the soft cap policy that currently says resident hunters, as part of the license application process, may receive up to 65 percent of the limited licenses in certain hunt areas.

Similarly, nonresidents can apply for the other 35 percent of those tags.

In some hunt areas with higher demand and licenses more limited, the current ratio is 80:20, resident to nonresident.

Any licenses not claimed during the initial license-application process go into the pool of leftover licenses, which may be purchased at a later date by any hunter.

Conversely, a hard-cap process would mean hunters are guaranteed that percent of the licenses.

This could mean more licenses going to nonresidents, who in some hunt areas apply in greater numbers than do resident hunters.

“Residents are not securing the 65/35 licenses the way they could and (currently) those licenses go to leftovers,” said Parks and Wildlife’s Terrestrial Wildlife Program supervisor John Broderick.

In a hard-cap system, any licenses not claimed on the resident side would flow to nonresident hunters (now those licenses go into the leftover pool) until either demand or the 35 percent ratio is met, whichever is less.

Such a change also would benefit the outfitters represented by Holsinger. Outfitters have predominately nonresident hunters as clients.

Broderick noted that this limitation is only for first-choice applications and residents are more likely to apply for and get second or third choices, while fewer than 80 percent of nonresidents apply for anything but a first-choice license.

Usually, changes in the state’s hunting regulations undergo intense public scrutiny through a series of statewide meetings, but with an eye on Holsinger’s charge of possible unconstitutionality and after pressure from Commissioner Robert Bray of Nucla to make these allocation changes, Commission Chair Bill Kane said he would prefer to “find a way to tweak and clarify” the regulations “without statewide debates.”

It should be noted that the 10th and Eighth District Courts courts have repeatedly upheld the individual states’ right to regulate hunting and in 2005 the U.S. Senate passed SB 109-13, which supports a states’ right “to continue distinguishing between residents and nonresidents when issuing hunting and fishing licenses.”

Bray’s involvement with the allocation process goes back to 1997 when he was on a landowner committee during hearings on season regulations.

Bray, whose outfitting business is listed on the COA website, was a commissioner in 2004 when the current system was adopted.

At the August meeting, Bray told the commission that the 2004 commission was unaware of what it was voting for.

“It wasn’t explained hard cap/soft cap,” Bray said. “We thought we were voting on what is now identified as a hard cap.”

Kane formed a subcommittee of five commission members to look at the issue.

The Parks and Wildlife commission will continue discussing season regulations at its next meeting Sept. 11-12 at the Glenwood Ramada in Glenwood Springs. Information at cpw.state.co.us.


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