Some out-of-state hunters shy away from hefty license fees for big game

As results of the 2009 big-game limited-license application process are tallied, one thing seems clear: Nonresident hunters are showing less interest.

Officials from the Colorado Division of Wildlife told the Colorado Wildlife Commission on Thursday that out-of-state applications for all limited-draw big-game licenses dropped from as little as 2 percent to as much as 50 percent this spring compared to 2008.

Conversely, resident hunters expressed slightly more interest this year in limited elk and deer licenses as those application numbers increased.

Similarly, the number of resident elk hunters seeking a preference point in lieu of a first-choice elk license was up by a third this spring, indicating at least some of those hunters either will purchase an alternate elk license or perhaps forego hunting.

Several factors contributed to the drop in nonresident applications, DOW officials said.

These mostly pointed to the soft economy, which has many people staying closer to home for vacations and hunting trips.

“It appears a lot of people will be sitting on the sidelines this year,” said Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington. “I wouldn’t have been too surprised to see a slight decrease (in nonresident applications), but this surprises me.”

The 50 percent decline was for nonresident desert bighorn sheep licenses, although no nonresident licenses are available this year.

The DOW allows big-game hunters each spring to enter a computer drawing for fall hunting licenses in areas where license numbers are limited. A hunter’s chance of being drawn a license depends on a convoluted random drawing system. Preference points, accrued either through application or when denied a first-choice license, can improve a hunter’s odds of drawing a license.

In some particularly desirable game management units, it may take 15 or more preference points to draw a license. Many hunters apply first for a preference point and second for a license.

A drop in hunter participation means less revenue for the mostly cash-funded Division of Wildlife. It’s particularly true in regard to nonresident hunters paying $546 for a bull elk tag (a resident pays $46 for the same tag) and $326 for a buck deer license (compared to the resident’s $31).

Nonresident applications for elk dropped almost 8.5 percent (from 90,213 to 82,603) while deer applications declined by 11.47 percent, from 66,270 to 58,669.

Nonresident hunters also are vital to the economy of many small towns that depend on a successful hunting season.

“They come into my store and buy licenses, supplies, T-shirts and gifts for the people back home,” said Gunnison businessman Randy Clark. He told the Wildlife Commission he was selling $400,000 in licenses a few years ago, but recently that has dropped to $90,000.

“It’s not just the Division that loses out on the revenue, but my business and all the businesses in our community,” he said.

Resident deer and elk applications increased slightly this year, 2 percent and 1.34 percent respectively.

Some of that increase in applications has to do with the Division’s continued and successful efforts to reduce the state’s elk herds, now estimated at close to 283,000 animals. Fewer licenses become available as management objectives are reached, resulting in more attention paid to licenses sold in the computer draw.

In other action, the commission appointed Bob Streeter, a wildlife commissioner from Larimer County, to replace Jeff Crawford as the wildlife liaison to the Great Outdoors Colorado board. Crawford’s appointment on the wildlife commission ends in March, 2010, and he said having a successor named this early would assist in the transition.

The Great Outdoors Colorado board recently approved an $8.62-million grant to the Division of Wildlife for habitat and species protection and to provide wildlife education.


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