Changes coming to landowner program

A program that rewards landowners with special hunting licenses for tolerating big-game animals on their property is undergoing change.

After two years of statewide meetings with hunters, landowners, agricultural groups and others, plus a legislative push, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is streamlining the landowner-preference program.

This program provides private landowners with vouchers that can be exchanged for big-game hunting licenses in the areas where the landowners have property.

The landowners can sell or give away the vouchers, and in some cases those licenses may bring five-figure prices.

The licenses were intended to promote more tolerance from landowners and encourage them to improve the habitat on their land.

According to Parks and Wildlife, about 95 percent of the critical winter range for mule deer in the state is in private ownership.

However, in recent years concerns have been raised by sportsmen, landowners and outfitters.

According Parks and Wildlife, sportsmen claimed the landowner vouchers were bringing big money to landowners or outfitters but resulted in fewer opportunities as landowners closed their lands to public hunting.

Landowners complained the distribution model in the original legislation didn’t address the differences in land ownership across eastern and western Colorado.

Hunting outfitters, many of whom benefitted from the voucher availability, wanted to make sure their operation would remain secure in the face of program changes.

“The landowner voucher committee included landowners, sportsmen and outfitters, and it began meeting in 2009 to contemplate changes,” said Perry Will, area wildlife manager in Glenwood Springs and committee co-chairman. “We knew that everyone wanted changes to the program, but we weren’t sure that we could find good middle ground for a compromise that would find support to pass the Legislature.”

Private lands in Colorado play a critical role in keeping wildlife populations healthy and abundant.

The Colorado General Assembly in 2000 adopted House Bill 00-1098, which recognized private landowners, especially those who own agricultural lands, maintain habitat and provide forage during winter months for large herds of deer, elk and pronghorn.

The Legislature worked with wildlife managers and landowners to develop the landowner-preference program.

Now, the program is undergoing changes mandated last year as part of Senate Bill 13-188.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff is now working on the complex programmatic and regulatory changes that will support the legislation.

“We will be revising the registration, monitoring and tracking systems, but the existing voucher allocation and distribution process will continue to be used in 2014,” said Steve Znamenacek, a district wildlife manager who is overseeing implementation of the program changes for Parks and Wildlife. “The new landowner registration system will come online in July of this year and will be the first piece of the transition to the new system.”

An online process is being developed to ease landowner registrations and speed approvals, and it is building in a tracking system where wildlife managers will be able to verify property eligibility.

The new system will launch in July and will govern the distribution and oversight of vouchers beginning in 2015.

Landowners and sportsmen interested in the preference system can find more information at http://www.cpw.com.

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