Loss of non-resident license sales hurts Parks and Wildlife
Among the more-complex topics the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has on its agenda for Gunnison this week is the topic of resident vs. non-resident big-game license allocations.
The topic is of importance to every hunter who fails to draw that coveted elk or deer tag and can’t figure out why.
It’s also of note to every Parks and Wildlife supporter wondering why that once-flush agency is running short of funds.
The economic foundation of the wildlife part of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is built on the money accrued by selling big-game hunting licenses, particularly selling licenses to non-residents compared to selling licenses to residents.
Simply, a resident hunter pays $46 for an elk tag while a non-resident pays $586 for the same tag.
Similarly, a resident hunter forks over $31 for the same deer license costing a nonresident $351.
Easy, right? Sell one nonresident elk tag and you get the equivalent of nearly 13 resident fees.
Likewise, lose that nonresident hunter — from old age, economic downturns or whatever — and you lose a substantial bit of jingle.
Plus, nonresident hunters spend more – way more – than residents when it comes to restaurants, stores, motels, and outfitter and guide fees.
Another factor: resident fees haven’t increased since 2006 while non-resident fees are tied to the Consumer Price Index, which means they generally go up ever year.
During the commission meeting last month in Grand Junction, Parks and Wildlife director Rick Cables mentioned the agency is facing a potential $5 million shortfall in its budgeted revenues.
State agencies are not allowed to deficit spend, which means something has to give, and Cables said he’s considering an across-the-board 5 percent budget reduction for Parks and Wildlife.
Limited-draw licenses are allocated to residents and nonresidents on an 80:20 or 65:35 ratio, depending on the number of preference points needed to draw a license.
But that’s a non-guaranteed “up to” allocation for nonresidents, meaning they might not get any licenses if there are enough residents with enough preference points to soak up all the licenses in a given hunting unit.
And because resident license are drawn first, it’s entirely possible there won’t be any licenses remaining in a given unit when it’s time to draw nonresident permits.
In 2001, when first proposed, the split was 60:40 with a guaranteed nonresident share but somewhere during the in-house write-up a change was made to a soft-cap. After resident hunters demanded a larger share of the licenses, the regulation changed in 2005 to read 65:35 with no guarantee.
At the time, one of the then-commission members asked outfitter Sammy Frazier, currently president of the Colorado Outfitters Association, if he could live with nonresidents getting 40 percent of the licenses.
Frazier’s response: “Sure, I can live with 40 percent, but can you?”
Now, it appears Frazier’s words have come true.
There is one possible solution, said Sue Mikesell, who co-owns M&M Outfitters in Craig with her husband Tom Mikesell.
“Guarantee nonresidents a flat 35 percent, like it was originally, and draw the non-residents first,” said Sue Mikesell. She said the Colorado Outfitters Association has “been advocating that ever since it became apparent they weren’t drawing the nonresident hunters first.”
“That way, if there are not enough nonresidents applying, let the residents have the licenses.”
This not only would boost the agency’s revenues (some COA members estimated a boost of around $1 million per year from elk licenses alone) but also would help the many small towns and businesses that depend on out-of-state hunters.
“New Mexico has a hard cap (for nonresident licenses) and they know exactly how many licenses they will sell and they can count on that money every year,” Frazier said. “But a soft cap never was intended to give nonresidents anything.”
The agency also loses money on hunters who have moved to Colorado in the last 10 years and now pay the lower resident fees.
At the Grand Junction commission meeting, Department of Natural Resources executive director Mike King said there currently is little political support for a resident license fee increase.
“In an election year, it would take nearly unanimous support” to get a fee hike passed, King said. “We don’t see that happening.”
The Parks and Wildlife commission meets Thursday and Friday at the Aspinall-Wilson Center at Western State Colorado University. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. both days.