The Colorado Division of Wildlife hosted a public forum Wednesday to discuss possible changes to the big game hunting season structure.
Although it is still early in the process, which won't be finalized until September, local sportsmen, outfitters and landowners packed a meeting room in Meeker to listen to DOW proposals and weigh in on issues.
"I didn't think we'd have 60 or 70 people because we're several months away," said Dan Prenzlow, the area wildlife manager.
The intent of the meeting was to present alternatives that are being considered by the Colorado Wildlife Commission. The Commission reviews the season structure every five years, making adjustments that will guide wildlife management, license sales, season settings and many other aspects of big game hunting. The new structure will take effect in 2005.
Meeting participants brought up the possible economic impact of the proposed changes again and again.
"Of all the alternatives I just heard you speak of, it really boils down to how it affects the economy on the Western Slope," said Randy Horne, who owns Bar H Outfitters in Meeker. Horne is the president of the Northwest Chapter of the Colorado Outfitters Association.
Of special concern to Horne is a proposal to issue all elk licenses through a draw instead of allowing over-the-counter license sales.
"That's a huge issue," Horne said. "It's going to limit the number of hunters -- resident and nonresident -- coming to our communities."
Deer licenses currently are limited and are not available over the counter.
Prenzlow said he knows that a couple of members of the Wildlife Commission favor a totally limited statewide structure for elk.
The limited elk structure could foster the growth of more and larger bulls, but several residents opposed the notion, saying that Colorado is known for providing hunting opportunity, not trophy animals.
"I don't think every hunter expects a six-point," said one man in the audience. "They come out to get an elk. They come for opportunity."
"Colorado has never been known for a trophy state, period," Horne said. "It's been known as an opportunity state."
"I hope we continue to manage for opportunity, rather than trophies," Horne said.
In the room of about 70 locals, no one voiced opposition to Horne's comments.
Residents also opposed an alternative that would lower the percentage of licenses issued to nonresident hunters. The proposal only would apply in "premiere" Game Management Units, not statewide.
Since the change only would apply to certain units, it would not severely impact nonresident numbers, according to Jeff Madison, a terrestrial biologist for the DOW.
Madison estimated the proposal would result in about 1,000 fewer nonresident licenses throughout the state. Each year, the DOW issues tens of thousands of elk licenses.
Some in the audience still bristled at the idea, contending that it would affect the perceptions of out-of-state hunters.
One man said that if communities in Northwest Colorado would be devastated by losing a relatively small number of hunters then "we're already in trouble."
Other topics, such as the preference-point system and the Ranching for Wildlife program drew comments and debate.
And when Madison discussed an alternative that would try to reduce the complexity of the DOW's hunting regulations, the crowd applauded.
Madison told a story about a pair of hunters who were in the DOW's Meeker office looking at a brochure trying to make sense of the regulations.
"We're from Los Alamos, N.M," Madison recalled the hunters saying. "We are rocket scientists and we don't have a clue."
Prenzlow warned that although the idea of reducing the complexity of the DOW's system might seem appealing, it comes with a price. The system has evolved over decades. If the structure was simplified, much of the confusion would go away, but so would regulations that are pet issues and dearly important to some.
Those who attended the meeting were asked to fill out a survey about which alternatives they prefer. Prenzlow also encouraged residents to suggest their own alternatives, too. The Wildlife Commission will narrow the proposals at its March meeting. In May or June, the DOW will host another round of public meetings to gather input as the season structure takes shape.
The public can send comments to the DOW, or submit them at a wildlife office. The season structure proposals can be viewed on the hunting section of the DOW's Web site. The site is located at www.wildlife.state.co.us.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.