CPW: Fee increases needed to maintain and improve programs, services

CPWlogoRBC I Representatives of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) held a briefing in Meeker on Monday night to present and discuss the division’s projected funding needs and ask for public comment
Speaking for CPW were Meeker area wildlife manager Bill deVergie and Northwest Regional assistant manager Dean Riggs from Grand Junction. Meeker area outfitter and current four-year member of the Parks and Wildlife Commission, Jeanne Horne, participated in the discussion as well.

The group reminded attendees that CPW is totally funded by license fees, meaning there are no state general fund dollars put toward CPW expenses. Of the CPW budget, 62 percent comes from hunting and fishing license fees, 16 percent from matching federal dollars collected as excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment, 12 percent from the Great Outdoor Colorado lottery proceeds, 4 percent from grants, 4 percent from donations and CPW sales, and 2 percent from “other” sources.
Only the Colorado State Legislature, not the commission, can increase resident license fees. The commission, however, can and does adjust non-resident license fees based on the Denver-Boulder Consumer Price Index, so those fees are increased in more frequent but smaller increments. The last increases in resident hunting and fishing licenses were in 2006.
The group presented three options for resident Colorado hunters and fishermen: no increase in license fees; small increases in some licenses; or larger increases for some licenses with the following impacts.
No resident license increase would mean CPW would have to continue cutting programs as their costs of just about everything continue to increase (the price for hatchery fish food, for example, they said, has gone up 92 percent since 2005). Cuts could include closing hatcheries and reducing stocking; reducing access to State School Lands (currently under a blanket lease); eliminating funding for preventing contamination by aquatic nuisance species which could lead to closing certain lakes to boaters and fisherman; reducing habitat conservation programs; and reducing maintenance on state wildlife areas.
Small increases in current fees, they explained, would be just enough to keep CPW programs and services at current levels.
The large increases, which could amount to as much as doubling resident elk license costs, for example, could fund efforts that the CPW believes the hunting and fishing public wants. This list includes improving access to private and public hunting and fishing; further maintenance and improvements for state wildlife areas and important habitats; implementing the CPW Mule Deer Strategy to improve deer populations on the West Slope; developing and enhancing recreational shooting ranges closer to home; and maintaining dams and hatcheries to keep current opportunities available.
DeVergie reported that CPW has already cut more than $40 million from the wildlife side budget since the merger with state parks related to having reduced permanent employees from roughly 650 to 600.
By 2023, the division has identified the need for $10 million to $25 million more to maintain and improve services. New costs include increasing technology—the division now has an Office of Information Technology that requires its own administrative burdens. Division vehicles are now part of the state fleet program and are leased by the division rather than owned by CPW as they used to be.
DeVergie suggested that the costs per mile in that system are much higher than they were when CPW owned their vehicles. Reductions in severance tax dollars, a portion of which have been allocated to CPW, are also expected due to a recent court decision in favor of oil and gas company claims of overpayment.
Issues that arose in the group discussion included the free fishing licenses to seniors; youth participation and recruitment; big game hunting becoming more of a rich man’s sport; and getting the non-license buyer who still uses wildlife-based facilities and opportunities to contribute.
The senior free fishing license program probably accounts for a large percent of fisheries use, he said. The free program is estimated to cost CPW some $2 million as the federal matching dollars are also forgone with free licenses.
Regarding youth recruitment and participation in hunting, it was suggested that Colorado look at what some other states have done in establishing “youth-only” hunting seasons.
Non-license buyers used to be required to buy habitat stamps in order to use state wildlife areas, for example, but after it was determined that it was costing more to try to enforce than the revenues it produced, that requirement was dropped.
Commissioner Horne indicated that getting that user to help pay for costs is something the commission still finds daunting.
The meeting Monday was one of at least 18 CPW is planning to hold across the state—one in each of its management areas. Similar meetings have already been held in Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.
Participants were asked to complete a brief questionnaire asking how well informed about CPW funding the respondent feels they are; prioritizing CPW efforts from protecting water quality to developing and enhancing local shooting ranges; asking willingness to pay more for hunting and fishing licenses; asking which programs should be cut back if fees aren’t increased; and requesting additional ideas.
Such questionnaires can be picked up at the Meeker CPW office. Responses to the questionnaires are to be compiled by the central CPW office after Sept. 15.