Outfitters take a look at CWD, elk overpopulation, ATVs

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Sixteen Northwest Colorado outfitters gathered Friday night in Meeker with chronic wasting disease, elk overpopulation and ATV use on public lands on their minds.

They gathered for the annual meeting of the Northwest Colorado Outfitters Association where the main message was that change only comes when people participate.

"We can't overpower Front Range sportsmen," Meeker resident Tom Miksel said.

A bill that would have changed the make up of the board that oversees outfitter licensing died in a Senate committee by one vote. One legislator said he received two calls against the bill, which is why he voted against it.

"If we sit here and tell each other our problems, nothing's ever going to get fixed. If we get on the same page and get to the meetings, something will get done," said Randy Horne, president of the Northwest Colorado Outfitters Association.

Chronic wasting disease

Of the more than 25,000 deer and elk tested during the 2002 hunting season, 305 animals tested positive.

"There some stuff that still has to be decided based on logistics," Department of Wildlife representative Dan Prinslow told the group.

Nearly half of all animals tested were from Northwest Colorado and there is a chance the definitions of "endemic" could be changed as a result of the 2002 results, Prinslow said.

Currently testing is only mandatory in endemic areas in Northeastern Colorado.

Infected animals were found in just about every core hunting area, Prinslow said.

"They're fairly well spread out," he said. "There's a fair amount of spatter around."

Prinslow said the DOW will test again next year in a similar, if not expanded way.

"I'm not sure how long we'll keep testing," he said. "Maybe another year."

Outfitter Dennis Rodebaugh, of Meeker, asked whether outfitters should recommend their hunters have their animals tested.

"Obviously from our standpoint, wed like to have as much scientific data as possible and what better way to do that than through hunters," Prinslow said. "We're there to do the tests and the more the better as far as I'm concerned."

He said testing outside of endemic areas is still voluntary and told outfitters to recommend testing, but to not force it.

Testing will continue in Craig, Meeker and Steamboat Springs, but may not continue in Rangely because of the low number of tests requested through that center.

Changes to testing this year will include a bar code on hunters' licenses that can be scanned at a testing facility and all pertinent data will be logged and sent electronically to the testing facility. That process is expected to speed up the two-week turnaround time for test results.

Another change is in the testing fee, which will be reduced from $17 to $15 a test.

More licenses won't be issued in hunting units where CWD has been identified, Prinslow said. Because of the small amount animals found positive, eliminating half a herd might only eliminate two infected animals and that may not be worth the trouble, Prinslow said.

"With enough winter kill and enough hunting pressure, I think we'll get herd turnover so that we'll never see the numbers here they have on the Front Range," he said.

Off-highway vehicles

Last year was the first year OHVs use was restricted to designated roads and trails and the Forest Service just stopped violators and explained the changes in the law to them. This year, tickets will be issued for non-compliance, said Hal Pearce with the U.S. Forest Service.

"Unless they were tearing something up, they just got visited with concerning the new regulations," he said. "This year we will do

tickets."

There is a $50 fine for taking an OHV off designated roads.

Several outfitters complained about the use of OHVs in the forest or off roads. They were asked to note the location and license plate number and call the forest service. Pictures were also recommended.

U.S. Forest Service enforcement officer Rob Vaitkus said he's issued tickets just on a photograph before.

Admittedly, having the regulation doesn't insure compliance, Pearce said.

"That's the way it is with everything," he said. "It's the honor system, but you never know when we'll be around the corner."

Hunting licenses

The DOW is in the beginning stages of creating its 5-year season structure and public input is encouraged on a structure that will cut down the cow elk population.

Meeker resident Tom Miksel suggesting making hunters kill a cow before a bull.

"Either-sex licenses don't work," he said. "Normal hunters with either-sex licenses are going to kill a bull."

Prinslow said the DOW isn't trying to manage herds through issuing either-sex licenses, but feels it will impact the cow population.

"We're going to give 5,000 bull tags anyway, we might as well make them either sex so a couple of hundred can be cows," he said. "Hunters who can't get a shot off in the first few days might take a cow and go home."

Prinslow's goal is to reduce the cow population by 20 percent and the increasing number of licenses issued is a testament to that.

In 1999, 4,000 cow or either-sex licenses were issues in the Bear's Ears District. In 2003, 17,000 will be available.

"I can't sit here and say we're not getting tags out," Prinslow said.

Improving quality was the main concern of the outfitters attending. They suggested that there be a point-size restriction in order to improve the breed.

Prinslow said there are infinite season combinations that could reduce the population and the process for establishing those will take more than a year.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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