Residents on board

Locals to make suggestions about Ranching for Wildlife

Moffat County likely will have a strong influence on the future of the Ranching For Wildlife program.

The county is home to four of the 13 members of a committee that will make recommendations to the Colorado Wildlife Commission about how to improve the RFW program.

The program provides incentives to encourage large landowners to manage their lands for wildlife benefits.

It has opened more than 1 million acres of private wildlife habitat to limited public hunting.

"I would like to re-emphasize that the purpose of this committee is to review the RFW program and make suggestions for improvements, not to abolish it or replace it with something else," Colorado Division of Wildlife Director Bruce McCloskey wrote to the committee members.

DOW Spokesman Randy Hampton described the committee as a "top-to-bottom review" of the program.

"There's really no sacred cow in terms of pieces of the program," Hampton said.

The DOW hopes the committee will develop its recommendations by July.

Moffat County residents on the committee include Allan Reishus representing sportsmen, Dean Gent and Ron Lawton representing agriculture and RFW neighbors, and Dick Cook representing RFW ranchers.

"Please remember that you are representing a group, and not just your particular interests in the RFW program," McCloskey wrote.

RFW ranchers and members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the recommendations.

Reishus is active in a number of wildlife organizations, including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

He's never hunted on an RFW ranch, because he has other hunting opportunities, he said.

"I feel like my first priority ought to be wildlife populations," Reishus said.

Reishus said he likes that RFW provides ranchers with incentives to improve their land as wildlife habitat.

He also likes that it gives hunters the chance to hunt on private land.

He assumed that the committee would make a recommendation about how many public hunters should receive RFW licenses.

Gent previously has served on the Moffat County Land Use Board.

In recent years, he has been a vocal critic of RFW. Gent circulated and submitted a petition to the DOW in an effort to convince the Wildlife Commission to change the RFW season structure to "achieve equal hunting pressure on the elk herds of Colorado."

Cook manages the Big Gulch RFW program. With 120,000 acres, the six ranches that form Big Gulch make for the second largest RFW program in Colorado.

With eight RFW programs, Moffat County has the most RFW participants of any Colorado county.

The committee's first meeting is Saturday in Denver.

The DOW is forming a similar committee to develop recommendations on hunting license allocations.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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