DOW makes changes to Ranching For Wildlife program

Ranching For Wildlife will undergo some changes next year, but some RFW critics say the changes don't go far enough.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife formed a committee to look at the RFW program earlier this year. Last week, the Colorado Wildlife Commission adopted some of the group's recommendations. The new rules take effect in 2006.

DOW has been administering the RFW program for more than 20 years. It gives landowners with more than 12,000 acres flexible and longer hunting seasons and guarantees licenses in exchange for managing their land for the benefit of wildlife. Landowners also have to keep a portion of their land open for public hunting.

The program has been under fire from RFW neighbors and sportsmen who say it provides undue benefits to private landowners at the expense of public hunting.

Under the new RFW rules, private landowners will get to keep a smaller percentage of male elk and deer licenses allocated for their land.

The old rules gave landowners 90 percent of the licenses and the other 10 percent went to the public.

Landowners commonly sell their licenses to hunters.

Now, landowners will receive 80 percent of the licenses. Landowners can receive up to 90 percent if they meet specific DOW requirements, including providing better public hunting access, improving wildlife habitat and helping the DOW reach herd objectives.

All female licenses will go to the public under the new rules.

DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield said the change is a positive step because landowners will want to reach the 90 percent mark.

"To do that, they're going to have to meet a lot of this criteria," Baskfield said.

But some RFW neighbors and sportsmen wanted landowners to get a smaller percentage.

Dean Gent, a Moffat County rancher who represented RFW neighbors on the committee, said he wanted the landowner percentage to be substantially lower.

"We thought it ought to start at about 60 percent to give the public their fair share of the game they own," Gent said.

Allan Reishus of Craig also said the new allocation rule -- much like the rest of the changes -- does not do enough. Reishus represented sportsmen on the committee.

"This was a very modest step in the right direction," Reishus said. "My personal belief is they did not go far enough in restricting some of the privileges for Ranching For Wildlife ranchers."

The new rules also try to address the complaint from RFW neighbors that ranchers horde animals by not hunting during regular rifle seasons. Neighbors say elk congregate on RFW ranches during regular rifle season because there is no pressure on them.

"My hunters weren't getting an opportunity to harvest any animals because they stay where they get the least pressure," said Gent, who leases portions of his land south of Craig to hunters every fall.

Under the new rules, RFW ranchers must schedule 25 percent of their hunts during regular rifle seasons.

Baskfield said whether the new rule puts enough pressure on elk to move away from RFW ranches will depend on geography, but it is a step in the right direction.

But Reishus said the new rule won't make too much of a difference because a lot of rancher already use 25 percent during rifle season.

Dean Visintainer, a Moffat County RFW rancher, said Reishus is probably right that ranchers already meet the new requirement.

"We probably use (25 percent) or more," said Visintainer, who has been involved in RFW for 12 years.

Baskfield said he doesn't have a timetable for when DOW will look at RFW regulations again, but said with herd sizes and hunter populations always changing, it will probably be an issue again.

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