By CHRISTINA M. CURRIE
Daily Press writer
Mother Nature sided with her four-legged creatures this year, and the warm fall weather made for a poor season for both hunters and local businesses.
"I don't think any of them did as well as they'd hoped," said Tony Stoffle, sportsman's information specialist at the Craig Chamber of Commerce.
Business owners said a poor set of circumstances combined to make this one of the worst hunting seasons in 10 years. This year, an increase in license fees, a low harvest, high gasoline prices and fear of traveling contributed to a decrease in revenue for Craig businesses.
"It was just set up from the start not to be good," said Mikki O'Brien, manager of the Craig Holiday Inn. "Advance reservations were down, then there were cancellations due to the prices of licenses and some people cancelled after Sept. 11. Because of the nice weather, people checked out early. They didn't see any animals in the first three days, so they left instead of staying out their reservation."
O'Brien estimates the hotel's business was down approximately 30 percent from last year.
Dave Hutton, owner of Craig Sports also estimates his business was down 30 percent from last year. He attributes the loss to a decrease in the amount of hunters who visited Moffat County this year.
Hunting pressure was significantly down from last year, especially from non-residents, said John Ellenberger, big game coordinator for the Colorado Division of Wildlife DOW."We didn't get the weather, it was too warm and dry," he said. "And the events that took place in New York City put a damper on the hunting scene."
Hutton said the events of Sept. 11 had some impact on the low number of hunters, but the biggest affect was the increase in license fees.
"We stayed steady, but anytime you decrease that amount of hunters, it's going to impact business," he said. "I was expecting about a 40 percent decrease just because the prices were up."
The DOW increased license fees for non-resident hunters by $200 for elk and $120 for deer.
O'Brien said hunters complained about the price increase, saying they could hunt for less in other states. Many won't be back next year, she said, especially with this year's low harvest.
High temperatures and a lack of snowfall kept animals in the high country, contributing to what the DOW estimates to be the lowest harvest in 10 years.
"The first season started off pretty good for harvesting elk," Ellenberger said. "Initial success was almost as good as last year, but during second through fourth seasons, everything went downhill."
The final rifle season ended Nov. 14.
"The weather was too warm," Stoffle said. "The animals were up too high and we didn't get the snow to help bring them down."
Stoffle attributes the low number of hunters to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying a big percent of those who would have traveled to Colorado to hunt were called into military service.
"The increase in license fees had a little impact, but I think that balanced with the people who thought it was getting too crowded with hunters and weren't coming because of that," Stoffle said.
Final harvest numbers are expected in January, along with the number of licenses sold.
Country General also reported that revenue was down for this hunting season.
"We didn't do nearly as well this year as we did last year," said store Manager Jody Womack. "We were at least 20 percent lower. It was partly due to the number of hunters, the number of licenses sold and partly due to us not having the stock we needed. It's hard to tell with us," he said.
Hutton said a poor hunting season effects all of the Yampa Valley.
"I don't know if it'll put anyone out of business, but the trickle down effect will impact the economies of Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties."
Not all businesses suffered. Members of the food and drink industry reported a booming business over the hunting season.
"It was really good for us," said Diane Knez, owner of the OP Bar and Grill. "It was probably one of the better hunting seasons we've had since we bought the place (in 1996). We had a lot of out-of-state hunters."
O'Brien said neither the Holiday Inn's bar nor its restaurant suffered.
"They held their own," she said.
O'Brien doesn't expect revenues from next year's hunting season to be any better unless the DOW makes some changes, and it might.
Because of the low harvest this year, the DOW is considering increasing the number of antlerless elk licenses issued next year. Also, to lure nonresidents back in 2002, the DOW could lower out-of-state license fees for antlerless elk to about $250 the fee charged before this year's increase.
That change will make the Moffat County Tourism Association's (MCTA) job a little easier. After this year's dismal hunting season, members of the MCTA plan to lobby the Colorado Wildlife Commission to change its regulations or decrease fees.
"We're going to make our case," said O'Brien, who is also a member of the MCTA. "I don't know what's going to happen, but hunting is too important to Moffat County. I don't think we can sit back and let this walk."
According to Stoffle, hunters will be back next year despite the prices and low harvest.
"Those that understand about the weather and stuff will be back," he said. "Those that are real hunters will be back."