OUT: DOW faces revenue challenges December 14, 2008

Last winter’s harsh weather, lagging revenue from licenses compounding DOW’s challenges

The Colorado Division of Wildlife continues to feel the effects of last winter’s record snows.

Storms that pounded Colorado and strained both physical and natural resources now are having a fiscal bite.

A report Thursday to the Colorado Wildlife Commission said the Division of Wildlife is about $3.2 million short this year in revenue from license sales.

The biggest drop was seen in deer licenses.

That $3.2 million includes all hunting and fishing licenses, said Henrietta Turner, head of the DOW license administration section. She cautioned the final deficit might be worse since a few late hunting seasons haven’t wrapped up and some licenses still are being sold.

“Overall we’re down 4.29 percent in license sales,” Turner said. “That’s about 45,000 licenses.”

Big game hunters have been told for years that as Colorado gets closer to capping its big game herds at acceptable levels, hunting opportunities will decline because fewer licenses will be available .

Thursday, Turner told the commission resident elk license sales declined by 2,000 tags (150,658) this year while nonresident elk licenses dropped by 7,000, to 84,755.

Revenue declined by $81,580 for resident license sales and $1.4 million for nonresident licenses.

Deer revenue and license sales also decreased although at a higher rate. Resident hunters purchased 71,000 deer licenses this fall, down from 78,000 in 2007. Nonresident deer hunters dropped from 29,227 in 2007 to 23,541 this fall.

Revenue from resident deer tags dropped 11.5 percent, from $2.15 million in 2007 to $1.9 million this year. Similarly, nonresident license sales dropped 19 percent with revenue declining 18 percent, from $8.5 million to $6.9 million.

Some of the decline likely can be attributed to the sagging economy, said Turner, but also hunters had fewer licenses to buy. In some cases license numbers were cut as herds continue to approach desired population levels. Also, in some places, the DOW has been lowering quotas because the licenses weren’t being sold.

Much of the decline in deer licenses and revenue came from lower license quotas, many of which were a reflection of concerns over the effects of last winter.

In one case, the Gunnison Basin received record snows last winter that spurred a four-month emergency feeding program. In response to pressure from local sportsmen and businesses, the wildlife commission slashed the deer licenses to seven.

“To keep it in context, that’s $3.2 million out of a budget of $100 million,” noted DOW Director Tom Remington. “Some of it’s a calculated decline as we reach population objectives.”

Turner also said pronghorn license sales were up last, a direct result of more licenses being available.

Turner suggested this trend of lower revenues may be here to stay.

“The point of my report is that the division may see declining revenues for a while as license numbers drop to keep herds at objectives,” she said.

Turner also mentioned her office this year refunded 14,000 big game licenses, about 4,000 more than last year. Because hunters don’t have to say why they ask for a refund, there’s no one apparent major cause for the increase in refunds, Turner said.

“But many of the people who responded to our questions mentioned the economy or their jobs as a factor,” she said.

The wildlife commission also is considering some changes in the State Habitat Stamp program.

Habitat stamps are required to use a state wildlife area, and non-license buyers can buy a $5 stamp to get access to these areas.

License buyers usually purchase two stamps, one with a fishing license, the other with a hunting license. This unfairly targets license buyers and the commission is considering dropping the two $5 stamps for one $10 stamp.

The commission also is considering requiring the purchase of a habitat stamp prior to applying for a big-game license. This would prevent non-resident hunters from piling up preference points without contributing to the state’s wildlife programs, Remington told the wildlife commission.


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