OUT: Sunday Column May 03, 2009

Panel may take up 2 closure petitions at meeting in GJ

The Colorado Wildlife Commission slips into Grand Junction on Thursday facing a decision on how much it wants to tread on private hunting rights.

The one-day meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn, 755 Horizon Drive.

The May commission meeting traditionally is when license numbers are set for the fall big-game hunting season and the public gets a first look at some tentative dates for the waterfowl season.

The latter won’t be finalized until later this year after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues its season structure, bag limits and dates.

What calls for some attention are two citizen petitions seeking hunting closures, a move the commission in the past has been reluctant to take.

“We have very few hunting closures on the books except in areas where a local government has established a policy of no discharge of firearms,” said Brett Ackerman, regulations manager for the Division of Wildlife.

One existing closure is a waterfowl hunting ban along the Colorado River from the Grand Avenue Bridge west to Horsethief Canyon State Wildlife Area.

The commission also established a hunting closure within a half-mile of the Mount Evans highway after receiving numerous complaints from tourists unhappy hunters were taking advantage of the human-friendly mountain goats.

The proposed closures being discussed this week include about half of Sugar Loaf Mountain west of Boulder and a private ranch in Douglas County near Castle Pines Village south of Denver.

The Sugar Loaf closure would entail a mix of private and public land in what land planners refer to as an “exurban interface.”

Conflicts between hunters and non-hunters aren’t uncommon in areas where development starts to encroach on traditional and historic uses.

There also are problems arising, particularly along the Front Range, when homes edge into wildlife habitat and conflicts result when deer or elk and the predators they attract start becoming nuisances.

Another type of conflict occurs when land use changes in response to growing populations.
We’re seeing some of that in the Grand Valley as recreational use (mountain bikes, ATVs, dirtbikes, etc) start taking over lands where hunters freely roamed a decade ago.

The Castle Pines proposal, though, is a different matter.

Here, Ackerman explained, the petitioners want the commission to ban hunting on a private ranch initially purchased for its hunting opportunities.

Development is starting to surround the ranch and late-comers want to stop the rancher from hunting.

In the past, the commission has worked with local governments to find equitable solutions
in such matters, but each case is different and no one knows how the commission will decide.

“This will be really interesting,” Ackerman said. “It could be a real turning point for the commission.”

The commission can control hunting with prohibitions but as noted earlier has been loath to do so.

However, the commission also prides itself with its outreach to the public, but it’s debatable whether a hunting closure enacted on private land is within the commission’s legal purview.

The decision won’t be easy because there’s the strong likelihood of lawsuits no matter who wins.

Ackerman said both cases already are in litigation not involving the DOW.

Ackerman pointed out what’s becoming a disturbing trend: The DOW purchases property to protect its wildlife and scenic values, people move to the area because of the said wildlife and scenic values and then they want to change the land use.

Mule Deer Association banquet — The Grand Junction-based Colorado Mule Deer Association will host its yearly banquet May 16 at Two Rivers Convention Center.

The CMDA was founded in response to concerns about the state’s mule deer herd and has spent countless volunteer hours preserving and conserving wildlife habitat and encouraging new generations of deer hunters. The group also was among the sponsors of Saturday’s Outdor Heritage Day.

Among the auction items to be bid for is the much-coveted Colorado Governor’s mule deer license, an item that might bring $100,000 or more from some well-heeled mule deer lover.

Bidding can be lively and not always in person as telephone bids will be accepted.

Tickets are available online at http://www.coloradomuledeer.org or by calling Lynn Ensley at 241-9556.

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