Colorado is well known for its recreational opportunities and public lands. We are very fortunate to live in a state where we have plentiful access to federal public land, 42 state parks and 350 State Wildlife Areas.
Until recently, the only funding source for the purchase and ongoing maintenance of SWAs was from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. But now everyone can help support SWAs, which provide protected habitat for big game, smaller wildlife and all manner of birds and fish and create amazing wildlife viewing opportunities.
First, it’s important to understand how Colorado Parks and Wildlife is funded and the history of SWAs.
CPW is not a taxpayer-funded agency. It gets just a tiny fraction of its $260 million in revenue from taxpayers. The bulk of the agency’s revenue comes from hunting and fishing license sales, federal excise taxes on the sales of hunting rifles, ammunition, donations and grants. Without hunters and anglers, CPW couldn’t afford all the expert biologists and conduct the exhaustive research behind our vast conservation efforts.
You might be wondering what exactly is a State Wildlife Area. CPW owns and manages about 350 SWAs throughout the state — each purchased and maintained with sportspersons’ dollars.
Historically, SWAs were located in isolated, rural areas and were intended solely for hunting and fishing activities and critical habitat conservation for wildlife.
Today, many SWAs are no longer isolated as they once were thanks to Colorado’s expanding population. Urban areas surround these once isolated properties, bringing in an exhausting use of dog walkers, hikers, wildlife watchers and other recreation pressures.
Unfortunately, this increased pressure is causing many recreationists to conflict with hunters and anglers on these SWAs. As with anything that gets well-used, there are increasing trash and maintenance issues. In the past, these maintenance fees were paid for, you guessed it, by revenue from hunting and fishing licenses.
So the question arose: Is it fair to allow hikers and wildlife watchers to get a free ride and force hunters and anglers to pay for their activities, and even crowd them off SWAs, when their license revenues are used to buy and maintain the land?
CPW can’t bar anyone from our SWAs, as they are for public access. So, to be fair and to spread the burden of ongoing maintenance and fund future purchases, the CPW Commission decided everyone using SWAs should share the financial burden of maintaining them.
This is not the first attempt to spread out the burden of maintenance and purchasing costs. Habitat Stamps were required for a while, but due to some technical difficulties and regulatory issues, that requirement fell by the wayside.
You might remember last year when CPW created a regulation requiring anyone over 18 years old who accessed a SWA to possess a current and valid hunting or fishing license. But people opposed to hunting objected to buying a license. So CPW staff spent the past year coming up with a way everyone using SWAs has the opportunity to help support them.
The solution was to create a State Wildlife Area Pass. They went on sale May 1.
The new pass is $36.08 for adults, plus a $1.50 Wildlife Education Fund surcharge and a fee of $10.40 for a Colorado Wildlife Habitat Stamp. That’s equivalent to the cost of the cheapest fishing license with a habitat stamp. It’s about half the cost of an $80 state parks pass.
As always, please pay attention to the regulations pertaining to all properties and those that pertain to each individual property, as some have some specific regulations. And please help us preserve and maintain them.
Please pick up after yourselves and others, respecting all who are lawfully enjoying the property with you. And keep in mind, the main purpose of these properties are to provide hunting and fishing access, so be mindful of the time of year because hunters may be using the property to hunt. During hunting seasons, I suggest if you are utilizing a SWA, to wear a blaze orange vest and hat for safety. If you do encounter a hunter, understand that it is illegal to interfere with lawful hunting activities.
I hope you get the chance to enjoy these wonderful properties and take pride in supporting conservation efforts in our state, so current and future generations can enjoy the incredible wildlife and habitat that Colorado has to offer.
Here are a few SWA properties near the Colorado Springs area that people can enjoy:
Ramah State Wildlife Area is just east of Calhan on U.S. Highway 24 before you get to the town of Ramah. It is probably the closest SWA to the Springs. Ramah SWA can be home to many different wildlife species to enjoy watching, including deer, pronghorn, turkeys (every once in a while), and during the right conditions, waterfowl. One out of 10 years or so, rain falls in the right spot and fills the reservoir, but not as often as it used to. More info: cpw.state.co.us/swa/Ramah%20SWA.
Dome Rock State Wildlife Area is in Teller County, past Divide. Turkey, elk, deer, and many other wildlife can be found here. More info: cpw.state.co.us/swa/Dome%20Rock%20SWA%20(formerly%20Mueller).
Pueblo Reservoir State Wildlife Area is on the western side of the Pueblo Reservoir State Park. Deer, waterfowl and other wildlife can be found here, as well as access to the western end of the reservoir. More info: cpw.state.co.us/learn/Maps/PuebloReservoirSWA_geo.pdf.
You can find a full list of properties at the CPW website, cpw.state.co.us, along with maps and information about specific properties.
For pricing and more information on the State Wildlife Area Pass here are some helpful links:
If you have a question, problem or column idea, call me at 719-227-5287. I might even answer your question in a future installment of “Wildlife Matters.”
Cassidy English is a District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.