RBC I The Colorado hunting season officially kicked off Aug. 30 with a five-week archery season, and while there are still more than two months left of various hunting seasons, Rangely and Meeker are prepared to both reap the benefits and face the challenges that hunting brings to the county.
Every year, Rio Blanco County attracts many hunters—and their wallets—into the area. And while the amount of money a hunter may spend can vary widely depending on their preferences, one thing is sure: they are an important economic part of the community.
According to a 2007 survey provided to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the government agency charged with overseeing Colorado’s hunting and fishing, hunting and fishing expenditures in Rio Blanco County totaled more than $30 million, with hunting accounting for more than $25 million of that total.
Of the money brought in from hunting, the vast majority comes from non-residents. Those living outside Colorado contributed just under $21 million to the Rio Blanco County economy.
Area Wildlife Manager Bill DeVergie said there are 305 jobs in the county that are directly tied to the hunting and fishing industries, equaling roughly 6 percent of local employment. The money made from hunting and fishing also directly funds the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Their funding comes primarily from license sales and a fee attached to the sales of firearms and fishing equipment that the department receives in the form of grants from the federal government, he said.
Rangely NAPA Auto Parts owner Brad Casto said his store experiences a “substantial increase” in business during hunting season. He stated that in his experience many hunters like to shop locally when they can. Casto referenced an annual customer who returns every year during hunting season in order to buy windshield wipers.
“He likes that we will install them for him,” Casto said.
However, the influx of out-of-town customers also presents challenges. NAPA’s inventory is based on local needs, and thus they don’t carry many parts for two- wheel-drive vehicles. Casto said this can cause problems when they get hunters coming from areas such as California, where two-wheel-drive vehicles are more common.
Local businesses aren’t the only ones that see an influx of activity during hunting season. Rio Blanco County Sherriff Si Woodruff says that while the number of calls his office sees from hunting incidents has gone down in the last several years, they do spend more time responding to needs.
Woodruff said the majority of hunting-related calls are for medical emergencies such as heart attacks and accidental self-inflicted wounds, typically during the process of dressing out an animal.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer Terry Wygant is also much busier during hunting season, although he said this year has been quieter than normal so far.
As of early October Wygant said he had only given out two tickets so far this year and has seen a downward trend in the number of citations handed out over the last several years.
While the season has just begun, Wygant said he felt there had already been a great bear harvest this year and that he was hopeful that the elk and mule deer rifle seasons would also go well. Wygant has been extremely pleased with the impact that hunting has had on the local elk herd.
“Ten years ago, the elk population was significantly too large, and hunting has alleviated many of the wildlife issues from the population being too big,” he said.
Hunting also impacts local landowners in a big way. Twin Buttes Ranch and Recreation is a family-run cattle ranch most of the year and a guiding/outfitting business during hunting season, at which time they employ up to nine guides and take in as many as 50 hunters.
While hunting is an important part of the business, trespassers and poachers present a problem for the family. Tyler Robertson, a fifth-generation family employee of Twin Buttes, trespassing and hunting has been getting worse over the last few years and can harm their business. Robertson explained that when a trespasser comes in, it “makes the wildlife change location or leave the property, making the game more scarce,” which can cause angry clients who feel that the “trespassers are cheating them out of their hunt.”
Robertson said trespassers aren’t just a problem of “lost” hunters, but are often, in fact, those who should know better. Colorado law states that it is the hunter’s responsibility to know where they are at all times and not the landowner’s job to make sure it’s clearly posted.
Robertson said he believes approximately 70 percent of the trespassing or poaching incidents are with locals.
In order to combat this, Twin Buttes has tried to make their property lines as clearly marked as possible, and, whenever they have a run-in with a trespasser who appears to have intended to cross into private property, they seek to prosecute to the full extent of the law.
With the 2014 fall hunting season in full swing, many of the RBC government units and local businesses are already feeling the economic benefits and interesting challenges presented by this busy season.