Landowners within the borders of Dinosaur National Monument were given the OK last week by the park superintendent to hunt on their property, even though the law addressing the issue can be interpreted in many ways, the superintendent said.
"We don't have a formal opinion from our regional solicitor," Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright told more than 20 people at a meeting in the public safety center. "We understand that this has been an issue for a number of years. We have made a decision not to prohibit hunting on private lands in the park."
Cartwright's words came at the beginning of the meeting that was scheduled to discuss one main issue -- if those who own private property within the boundaries of federally owned property, which forbids
hunting, should be allowed to carry firearms and hunt on their
Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead, who scheduled Thursday's meeting, asked if Cartwright's guarantee was permanent.
"Do we get this in writing in the near future?" Grinstead asked. "Is this something where my grandkids can hunt there in 25 years?"
But both Cartwright and Ronald Everhart, director of the National Park Service in Colorado, said they did not have the authority to make a permanent decision.
As was their answer to several issues addressed Thursday.
There are 380 national parks in the United States and the rules are the same at each of those parks, he said. The law regarding hunting on private land within a national park is open to interpretation.
But landowner Tim Mantle, who's family has butted heads on land issues with the park service for more than half of a century, wanted more assurances.
"The park service has no objections to carrying a firearm, and the Division of Wildlife has no problem," Mantle said. "But what type of assurance do we have? So far all we have is Chas' word."
Other issues addressed in the meeting included who has authority over County Road 14, which runs through the park, including whether landowners should be allowed to use ATVs on the road to drive from one piece of property to the next.
Park officials said no, stating that it is against park regulations, and said exceptions could not be made.
They also discussed whether exceptions could be made for those private landowners regarding carrying a firearm in their vehicle on county roads in the monument from one parcel of land to another.
Monument rules state that firearms must be cased and unloaded when carried in a vehicle, and once again, officials said those were rules in place for all national parks, and they did not have the authority to make a decision.
While Cartwright gave his OK to hunt on private land, he said he had concerns about public perception.
"Most people are going to come with the assumption that there's no hunting in the park," Cartwright said. "How do we deal with that? We're trying to protect anybody in the area from getting hurt by a stray bullet."
But Mantle had what he thought was a simple answer to that concern.
"As far as a problem to people, it's always been against the law to shoot someone," Mantle said.
One idea mentioned was to hang maps at park kiosks indicating where private land is in the park, warning park visitors that hunting might be taking place at those places.
Three representatives from the Colorado Division of Wildlife also were in attendance at Thursday's meeting, including DOW Director Russell George.
As far as boundary concerns go, he said he did not see a difference between the situation between landowners and parks regarding hunting from other boundaries in the state.
"I don't see the boundary of this private land owner and this park as being any different from other boundaries between private landowners," George said. "The constraints are the same. It's a safety issue and a private property issue. I don't think this is a different set of rules or laws at all."
In the end, those pushing for hunting on private property within the park, including Mantle and Grinstead, asked if concrete documentation could be provided stating that it was allowed.
"I'm going to say what I already said today," Cartwright said. "I'm not in a position to make that assurance. We've made a determination not to prohibit hunting on private land in the park."
Everhart and Cartwright said they would approach the regional director of the park service to write a letter stating that hunting was allowed on private land within the monument.
Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.