It’s never easy to hike hunting fees
It’s no secret the Wildlife part of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is scrambling to maintain the cash reserve it needs to pay the bills.
As you remember, a little more than a year ago it was discovered what’s termed “an accounting error” drained Wildlife’s cash reserve by an estimated $32 million.
The loss caused some Department of Natural Resources projects to be delayed, including moving the Southwest Region headquarters out of Durango to the much-awaited Outdoor Discovery Center in Gunnison.
No one ever likes to see that much money disappear, but it comes at a propitiously bad time for Wildlife, which sees its hunter base continuing to shrink and with it the agency’s main source of revenue.
One way to keep the money coming in is to charge more, which makes sense in one way — the number of online license applications this spring increased by 17,000, or 4 percent, over 2012.
That, said state officials, shows there still is a strong demand for Colorado’s hunting experience.
That’s where much, if not all, of the missing money went — to improving and providing habitat and keeping Colorado the No. 1 draw for big-game hunters.
Raising license fees for nonresident hunters is built into a system that ties those licenses to the Consumer Price Index for Front Range metro areas.
As long as the CPI grows (and it has for 21 of the past 22 years), nonresident hunters face a hike in their hunting licenses.
Also, it’s easier to jack up prices when your customer lives in St. Paul instead of down the street and you have to talk to her or him face to face.
It’s less facile to hike resident hunting licenses, the last of which came in 2006.
In-state hunters pay substantially less for several reasons, those reasons bouncing between frivolous (part of the privilege of living in Colorado) and serious (see above).
DNR Executive Director Mike King says there is some support for a license-fee hike, but such moves are at least two years off.
“I strongly believe we can build our support for a fee increase, but that won’t happen until we get our own house in order,” King said. “That means at least 2015, since 2014 in an election year, and it’s unlikely anything like that would pass in an election year.”
The agency’s first steps necessarily will be reaching out to sportsmen’s groups, he said.
“If we propose a resident license increase, we have some serious outreach to do with the sportsmen,” he said. “It’s my feeling that (support is there) if we go out and talk to the sportsmen about the (financial) shape we are in and what it means to lay the foundation for a strong future.”
Part of that future as King envisions it entails bringing Parks and Wildlife downtown, away from its longtime headquarters at 6060 Broadway, and hanging the bighorn ram emblem with other DNR agencies at 1313 Sherman St. in Denver.
That loss of $32 million accentuated some long-standing concern that being five miles away on Broadway isolated Wildlife from the day-to-day DNR operations downtown, King said.
“We, the executive director’s office, are the last check, but those agencies have largely appeared as isolated bureaucracies,” he said. “We don’t have the quality control we need, and when that happens the Legislature looks to the executive director for answers. Having Wildlife in the same building as DNR will provide the accountability the public and the Legislature demands.”
The customer service center (CWD testing, OHV registrations, call center, etc,) will remain at 6060 Broadway, but the procurement, budgeting and accounting offices are moving downtown.
In addition to having the Legislature close at hand (at best a mixed blessing), the state engineer’s office, the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, among other DNR agencies, are based downtown.
“I firmly believe in an integrated approach to natural resource management, and having this new structure moves us in the direction,” King said. “In the short term we are undergoing a renaissance at the state capitol.”