Division of Wildlife dodges a couple of legislative bullets.

HUNTERS UNWILLING OR UNABLE TO PAY TRESPASS FEES for private land can find open access at many state-owned parcels across western Colorado. Many of these lands were purchased with funds raised by the sale of state habitat stamps.

The legislative session isn’t quite half over and already the Division of Wildlife has dodged a couple of errant bullets.

House committees shot down two proposed bill, one from Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, and the other from Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, that would have prohibited or delayed the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from adhering to House Bill 1298, the Colorado Wildlife Habitat Stewardship Act, which passed the 2007 Legislature by a unanimous vote.

Still to be decided is the fate of House Bill 1255, another HB 1298-related bill that’s more of an issue with the Department of Natural Resources since it includes the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

This one is sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma. It would strip the Division of Wildlife of its consulting role in the effects of energy development on wildlife and wildlife habitat.

“This bill would diminish the ability of the Division of Wildlife to recommend protections that were clearly articulated in House Bill 1298,” said DNR spokesman Theo Stein. “It would also undermine 18 months of dialogue and compromise that took place during the rule-making process.”

The bill also says a landowner cannot be denied a drilling permit if he or she refuses to undergo a wildlife consultation aimed at what 1298 called “best management practices” in terms of wildlife habitat.

This bill was being debated Tuesday in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

The other major bill that’s appeared this session is Senate Bill 24, carried by Sen. Al White, R-Steamboat Springs. In its original form this bill would have changed drastically the state’s game damage program and, some sportsmen argued, would have contributed to making hunting a game for the rich by allowing landowners to charge trespass fees of up to $2,500 per gun and still get game-damage payments.

The DOW has been working hard on this bill to retain the $100 fee limit and eliminate a demand from landowners for mandatory kill permits when they thought the division wasn’t responsive enough to game damage problems.

According to Division spokesman Tyler Baskfield, the agency agreed to make elk-resistant panels and other prevention materials available to more landowners and to provide permanent damage-prevention materials to landowners.

Baskfield said current amendments allow landowners charging more than $100 limit to received game-damage payments only after going through their local Habitat Partnership Program committee.

“If the HPP can’t find a solution, the landowners can turn to us,” Baskfield said.

Sportsmen still aren’t happy about this last provision, since that means landowners who charge high prices for public access still can get damage materials funded by license fees.

This bill is set for a hearing by the Senate appropriations committee in the next two weeks.

Other legislation of note:

House Bill 1071: Initially sought to raise search and rescue fee surcharges to $1 on every license and habitat stamp sold and allow municipal police departments to apply for search and rescue funds. As of now, the fee increase has been cut to 50 cents and municipal police are not eligible for search and rescue funds.

Pro: More money for reimbursing equipment and training costs to under-funded sheriff’s departments. Con: Hunters and anglers still pay nearly two-thirds of the cost, yet only need 9 percent of the rescues.

Still undecided is how to get unlicensed outdoors users to pay their share.

The sponsor, Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, wants the DOW to be more pro-active in promoting the Colorado Search and Rescue Card.

Colorado Habitat Stamp: This legislation isn’t due for renewal until 2010, but it takes time for something like this, with all the politics that come into play, to make its way through the Legislature.

Several big changes are pending. Foremost is how and where the money is spent. Again, hunters and anglers supply more than 98 percent of the funding, another inequitable breakdown.

Conservation groups initially pledged their support for the legislation, but some of those groups, and this includes many anglers, aren’t happy about the wording that requires 60 percent of the money to be spent on big-game habitat.

One possible compromise is to delete that limiting language and allow the DOW more leeway in deciding how to spend the money. That is, buy property when it’s available, without being tied to a pre-decided purpose.

“We’ve been meeting with environmental groups and sportsmen groups trying to come up with a way to package the habitat stamp,” Baskfield said. “We’ve been making some progress on this one.”

Other possible changes: Eliminate the two $5 stamps in favor of one $10 stamp; require anglers to buy the $10 stamp on their third and subsequent one-day fishing licenses; and remove the requirement that anyone using a State Wildlife Area must have a habitat stamp.


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