With the third big game season over, most of the florescent orange visitors to Craig have packed up and left.
The controversy over hunting regulations for the next five years still remains.
It's possible big game hunting regulations could be turned upside down at the Colorado Wildlife Commission in Denver Nov. 18-19.
Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) and the Wildlife Commission have spent the last year traveling throughout the state asking for public opinion on the proposed regulation changes. There is a new proposal that would change the traditional three season hunting format. This DOW staff-recommended season structure change was introduced in September, and many hunters in the state have not had the chance to give their opinion on it.
The proposed structure for 2000-2005 seasons starts with a limited rifle elk season beginning Oct. 14 and continuing through Oct. 18. An over-the-counter license season for elk and a limited rifle season for deer would run Oct. 21 through Oct. 27. The third season would start Nov. 4 and be over-the-counter licenses for elk and limited draw for deer, ending Nov. 12. A fourth limited draw, private land season for deer would start Nov. 11 and continue through Nov. 15. Another late draw elk season would also be possible, but the dates have not been set.
Marianna Raftopoulos, wildlife commissioner and Moffat County commissioner, is cautious when it comes to implementing the new season structure.
"We might just want to keep the three combined seasons the same and go through one more year and see how that affects us," said Raftopoulos.
While the proposed new season structure would affect the hunting seasons, Craig residents are most concerned over the possibility of the game management units (GMUs) that surround Craig becoming quality hunt areas. This would make it necessary to draw a license before being allowed to hunt the area. Many Craig business owners and residents fear the change would substantially cut the revenue hunters bring into the economy.
Pattie Snidow, Craig Chamber of Commerce board member, is leading a group of Craig residents, merchants and ranchers to the Wildlife Commission meeting to express concern over the proposed changes. The Wildlife Commission will not vote on the proposed changes to units north of U.S. Highway 40 and Craig during the Nov. 18 meeting. According to Raftopoulos, the Wildlife Commission will look into criteria and the process for GMUs nominated to become quality hunt units.
According to Snidow, it will still be important for the group from Craig to inform the Wildlife Commission about how the change to quality hunt units would affect the Craig economy.
"We're going to go down there and reinforce what we said last time (the Wildlife Commission meeting in Grand Junction that took place in September)," said Snidow. "We're taking down figures that show what the deer draw did to our economy this year. We want them to understand that what they are proposing for next year is far too much for our economy to bear."
Snidow believes the Wildlife Commission decision to delay to the vote on the issue is putting an unfair burden on the group because it is forcing them to attend every Wildlife Commission meeting, but she remains positive the group presence at the meeting will influence the decision.
"We're hopeful that the DOW will take into account the interests of rural communities and the wildlife," said Snidow.
Chris Comstock, information officer at Craig Chamber of Commerce, sees both positives and negatives to the newly proposed season structure.
"If they go with the four seasons it will give the animals a little bit better rest period, it will let them settle down a bit between seasons," said Comstock. "But it may have an effect on the economy, which is unfortunate."
Mike Bowman, area game management officer for the DOW, believes the business owners have to also think long term if they want to protect both the animals and the economy. While Bowman has not had the opportunity to review the proposed season structure, he is clear about what the structure should accomplish.
"My overriding interest in the season structure is wildlife management," said Bowman. "The season structure needs to provide the tools necessary to accomplish management."
Bowman is concerned because the success rates of hunters on public land is decreasing substantially, a trend that could hurt the hunting-based economy as much or as more as restrictions in the regulations.
"This year was the worst I've seen as far as complaints of lack of animals on public land," said Bowman. "Hunters are telling me they are not going to return because of the low numbers of animals they see on public land. I heard that comment more this year than any other and it's not a function of the weather either. We need to secure the base to manage these animals and the success rates. Sure, we can offer a lot of public land hunting opportunity to people, but if there is nothing for them they won't come back."
Bowman believes the majority of the hunters that boost the local economy in the fall hunt on public land. It is vital that they have a chance to be successful if they are going to return, he said.