Group: RFW program has few benefits

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The Ranching For Wildlife program might not even have the same name after a committee of residents has finished reviewing it.

After two months of work, a 13-member committee of sportsmen, RFW neighbors and RFW participants has identified several dozen problems with the program.

They've found very few benefits.

Ranching For Wildlife is a hunting program administered by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. It provides large landowners with flexible hunting season dates and guaranteed hunting licenses in exchange for opening their property to public hunters and improving wildlife habitat.

The DOW director assembled the committee in an effort to improve the RFW program, which has been beleaguered with criticisms almost since its creation in 1995. The only stipulation is that the program must continue.

"It could look real different," committee coordinator Tom Remington said. "In terms of change to the structure, nothing was off the table."

Committee members selected Remington, a DOW employee, as their media spokesman.

Issues the committee has raised fall into three main categories, Remington said.

The committee is looking at the effects the program has on neighbors of RFW participants. Concentration of elk herds on RFW ranches can spill onto neighboring land and cause damage.

The committee also is deciding whether the license split is fair to public hunters. Ninety percent of the licenses allocated to an RFW rancher are private licenses. The remaining 10 percent must go to the public. Public hunters have also complained that they weren't permitted to access certain areas of RFW ranches.

Thirdly, the committee will consider the administrative process of the program. They'll attempt to determine the purpose of the program -- whether it should increase public hunting access, help achieve DOW harvest objectives, improve wildlife habitat, or do all three, Remington said.

Other changes could include lowering the acreage required to participate in the program from the current 12,000 acres, changing season dates for hunting on the ranches and disallowing hunting during the rut.

Some committee members have questioned whether the program's name gives a bad impression.

The sheer amount of negativity was hard to work through during the first few meetings, Remington said. But negativity has been a problem for years.

"As an agency, we've done a terrible job of promoting the benefits of this program," Remington said.

Benefits the committee identified included the land access that the program provides public hunters and the incentives to improve wildlife habitat that it creates.

The committee could complete a draft of program improvement recommendations anytime between mid-May and mid-June, Remington said. The committee will then seek public input on the draft.

But the state Wildlife Comm-ission will make the final decision about what changes are made to the program.

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