OUT Sunday Column June 07, 2009

More ATV access may not mean better hunting

Unlike LeBron, who gets an early start to his summer vacation, things never stop around here.

We’re a bit surprised and even more confused about the message on ATVs being sent by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

In response to a proposal from the White River National Forest to limit ATV use to 993 miles of existing trails and roads, down from the 1,833 miles now available, DOW Director Tom Remington allowed as how maybe that isn’t such a good idea.

In a story that appeared in The Daily Sentinel on May 26, Remington told Daily Sentinel reporter Dennis Webb that “ATVs seem to be the travel method of choice” by aging hunters.

Which, Remington said, means “... in order to meet harvest objectives, the CDOW needs to be able to disperse this aging user group to the animals.”

So forget the travel restrictions on ATVs is what Remington seems to be saying. This stance is markedly divergent from the usual argument coming from the wildlife agency that hunting and wildlife habitat is better the farther you get from roads and motorized traffic.

But does more ATV access translate to continued hunting success?

It already isn’t easy to escape the roar of the internal combustion engine.

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, a trade organization representing the ATV and motorcycle industries in the United States, off-highway vehicles sales (including ATVs and off-road motorcycles) more than tripled to over 1.1 million vehicles between 1995 and 2003.

MIC figures say that in 10 years, the total existing number of OHVs grew from fewer than 3 million vehicles to more than 8 million in 2003.

Sales in 2004 through 2006 totaled almost 3.25 million vehicles. If sales in 2007 were at least 1 million new vehicles, and assuming that 80 percent of all vehicles were still operable, there would have been as many as 9.8 million ATVs and off-road motorcycles in the U. S. as of Jan. 1, 2008, according to MIC figures.

Remington wants to make it as easy as possible for older hunters to kill an elk or deer, although it’s been written elsewhere that harvest success goes down when ATVs and OHVs come roaring over the hill.

And of particular note is Remington’s remark that “almost half” of the White River is off limits to ATVs because of wilderness designations.

These wilderness areas, as well as thousands of acres of private land within the forest boundary, provide refuge for wildlife harassed unintentionally or otherwise by hunters and other motorized recreationists.

Wild animals quickly figure out where those refuges are and put themselves as far from the shooting as possible.

Remington supports his argument for continued ATV access by noting that the average age of hunters is 56 and is “increasing by a year every year.”

I’m not sure age should be a factor, except to remember what former Gov. Dick Lamm once said about stepping aside and letting another generation have its opportunity at unspoiled hunting opportunities.

And the argument that harvest objectives won’t be met if more restrictions are put on ATVs has several holes in it, not the least of which is the apparent lower success rate in areas where ATVs and OHVs are used indiscriminately.

After years of flooding the market with elk licenses in an effort to reduce the state’s elk herds, particularly in northwest Colorado, the DOW recently has been hearing complaints from ranchers and outfitters that the effort has been too successful, that elk numbers have dropped too low.

This year, after deciding the deer population took a 13 percent hit after the big winter of 2007-2008, the DOW cut back deer licenses across the Western Slope.

Cow elk and either-sex elk tags in the White River hunting units also were reduced this year as those herds near desired population levels.

Which indicates hunters will be seeing fewer deer and elk this fall.

There is one possible result of Remington’s pro-ATV stance: The best opportunity those aging public-land hunters on ATVs might have of seeing an elk may be on private land, where both hunting pressure and ATVs are at a minimum.


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