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EDITORIAL: Our fish and wildlife assets are not free

February 10, 2018 Updated: February 10, 2018 at 9:55 am
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photo - Fisherman with canyon view
Fisherman with canyon view 

Protecting wildlife and critical habitat should rank among the higher priorities of state government. Nature gifted us with outdoor assets that make Colorado a destination known and coveted around the globe.

Residents expect Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the commission that governs it, to protect and maintain our natural assets, and it is neither simple nor cheap.

It becomes more difficult and expensive as the human population grows and places more demand on parks and populations of fish and other wildlife species.

Unlike a private-sector business, Parks and Wildlife is severely limited by state law in its ability to raise prices on fishing and hunting licenses, and other fees when necessary.

This stagnant pricing leaves the agency helpless to keep up with increasing demand and escalating costs.

A proposal in the Legislature called the "Hunting, Fishing and Access for Future Generations Act" would adjust fees and tie them to inflation going forward.

Constraints on the Parks and Wildlife commission's ability to raise fees has kept hunting and fishing prices stagnant since 2005, as population has soared and inflation has increased by 30 percent.

State park entry fees have not changed since 2010.

To adjust for inflation and increasing demand on habitats and wildlife, the agency has cut or defunded 50 positions and reduced $40 million from its wildlife budget since 2009.

The austerity measures, which take a toll on residents and visitors, have not been enough. The bureaucracy's wildlife budget faces a projected deficit of nearly $30 million annually by 2025 and an annual parks deficit of $11 million.

All this means less attention to wildlife management and conservation at an expense of hunters, fishers and sensitive species.

It means less attention to management of recreation areas, less law enforcement on state lands, and diminishing maintenance of the state's outdoor amenities.

The bill would take the cost of an annual fishing license from $26 to $33. An elk tag would go from $45 to $53. After 2019, increases in fees would track with the Consumer Price Index, as they do with nonresident fees.

The money would help Parks and Wildlife invest in better hunter education, fishing programs, and provide grants for shooting ranges throughout the state. The agency would increase big game populations and protect wildlife with more highway game crossings. It would modernize hatcheries, and more. The agency has a great track record of using fees to serve those who pay them and those who simply enjoy seeing more healthy wildlife.

Colorado's wildlife and natural habitats don't manage themselves. They require professional care, at costs that constantly increase. Legislators should pass this bill and allow Parks and Wildlife professionals to continue protecting and improving our state.

The Gazette editorial board

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