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Like them or dislike them, you still have to agree TV commercials have become very creative, humorous, maybe even distasteful and controversial. But they do get our attention. Many of us wait with anticipation the week or two prior to the Super Bowl wondering what new commercial creations we will see on Super Sunday? If you fish or hunt you have to like the commercial where the hunter in blaze orange or the angler in chest waders (who generate the outdoors income through their license fees) is getting a big “hug” from the person enjoying Colorado’s outdoors.
So what do you say is all this affection about? It’s about dollars. Hunting and fishing license revenue and related outdoors activities income are the sole source of funds to support the expenses of the fishing and hunting operations on the wildlife side of the state parks and wildlife agency. The concern is the fact there has not been frequent enough fee increases to keep pace with inflation or growth in population utilizing Colorado’s outdoors amenities. The results are underfunded fish and wildlife programs, where operating expenses and major capital improvements needs are growing faster than the revenue to support them.
As a practical matter, licenses fees are very moderately priced, too low to cover growing costs. One resident elk license, for example, is no greater than the cost of a tank of gas for CPW staffer. As a comparison, more pricey Bronco game day costs equal or exceed two years fishing in Colorado. A movie ticket and dinner evening out costs more than a resident Colorado deer license.
Let’s look more closely at just what we are asking our fishing and hunting licenses dollars to support in terms of wildlife and habitat costs. Colorado Parks and Wildlife Maintain 19 fish hatcheries and annually stock 90 million cold water and warm water species; Wildlife staff support over 960 species of game and non-game birds and mammals; manage 28 small game hunting species and 10 big game species; oversee the nation’s largest elk herd of 264,000 animals and must make sure these herds have adequate habitat and a healthy environment.
Hunting licenses have not been adjusted since 2006. Inflation alone has significantly limited growth in income to support fish and wildlife. When looking at all sources of income 62 percent comes from hunting and fishing license fees; 16 percent from Pittman-Robertson federal excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment specifically set aside for state fish and wildlife agencies; 12 percent from park and recreation related COGO funds, 4 percent grants and 4 percent personal and corporate donations and sales.
When business expenditures surpass income, when you have a growing population demanding these services, it becomes impossible to maintain even “current” level programs. Even after you are forced to cut 50 positions and reduce budgets by $40m (as DPW has done in the last 6 years) the business condition becomes critical. Yet that is what our fish and wildlife agency has lived with and continues to face each year.
Colorado has one of the most sought after fish and wildlife environments in the nation, yet it has one of the most understaffed and underfunded agencies attempting to provide the outdoors experience for its citizens. It is time for that to change. Colorado can do better!
Ron Hellbusch can be reached at Ron-Hellbusch@comcast.net.
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