Man on a (com)mission

Northwest Colorado rancher vies for seat on Wildlife Commission

The Colorado Wildlife Commission regularly finds itself in the crosshairs of the state's hunting debate.

Advocates for in-state hunters say the commission favors those who profit from hunting. Hunting industry advocates say the commission resents guides and outfitters.

The commission sets policy for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, including hunting and fishing license standards and rules for watchable wildlife.

With the amount of criticism fired at the commission, it's difficult to understand why someone would want to join.

There are no residents from Northwest Colorado serving on the nine-member commission. But Kelly Sewell of Slater said he has the time to serve and the willingness to face criticism wildlife commissioners endure.

"It affects a lot of people, not just hunters," the 50-year-old rancher said.

Sewell has experience with a variety of wildlife issues, including hunting and fishery restoration.

Area governing boards support Sewell's bid to serve on the commission. City councils in Craig, Meeker and Steamboat Springs have endorsed the Oklahoma native, who has lived in Northwest Colorado for 32 years. Commissioners of Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties also want Sewell to represent Northwest Colorado on the commission.

Open seats

On March 1, terms for three of the nine voting members on the commission expire.

The governor appoints members to the commission based on a variety of criteria, including the member's political party, where he or she is from and the special interest he or she represents.

Sewell, a registered Democrat, wants to fill the seat left vacant by Robert Shoemaker of Cañon City. Shoemaker, also a Democrat, represents agricultural interests. Because Sewell is a rancher and hay farmer, he also can represent those interests.

No agenda?

If he were appointed to the commission, Sewell said he would not immediately push a specific agenda.

"I'm a pretty fair-minded person," he said. "I'm not looking to further one person's interest over another."

Although he once ran a small outfitting operation on his ranch, he said he doesn't plan to represent only outfitters.

Annette Gianinetti, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, said Sewell's objectivity was one of the reasons she asked him to seek a seat on the commission.

"I think people are going to find that he is a fair-minded individual," she said.

Sewell, like Gianinetti, was against a wildlife commission decision in October to cut the number of licenses given to out-of-state hunters in a bid to give more to in-state hunters.

Next year, the new rules will give about 20 licenses in Moffat County to in-state hunters at the expense of out-of-state hunters, Division of Wildlife officials said.

Sewell said he opposed the rules because he thought the old policies already were fair and because Colorado shouldn't make it tougher for out-of-state hunters to secure licenses.

He also said he worried about what the new rules would cost the state because out-of-state hunters pay higher fees than in-state hunters do.

Although Sewell opposed the new license-allocation rules, he said he doesn't intend to fight for their reversal if he is appointed to the board.

The commission isn't expected to address the rules again until 2009, he said.


Critics wary

Sewell's stance on the new allocation rules and the fact that he has worked as an outfitter has some local residents concerned.

Craig resident Lynn Belle--ville has hunted in the area for more than 30 years.

In that time, he has watched hunting become more about business and less about families celebrating their heritage, he said.

"We're excluding father-and-son hunters. With the attitude everyone has, they're getting knocked out of the saddle," he said.

Belleville said he blames the changes in part on an influx of out-of-state hunters and the influence of outfitters.

Belleville has never met Sewell. But he said he would like to see someone on the commission who favors more licenses for in-state hunters and also someone whose priority is the average hunter, not business interests.

Small outfitter, big cost

Sewell said his work as an outfitter and his opposition to the new rules doesn't mean he isn't an advocate for in-state hunters.

"I've been a hunter just like them," Sewell said.

He said his former outfitting operation was small.

Like many ranchers, Sewell said he guided some hunts to supplement his income.

"It's pretty hard to make those ranches pay," he said.

He said he opposed the new license-allocation rules based, in part, on his concern that they may lead to higher fees for all hunters.

If the new rules were in place in 2004, it would have cost the division $380,000 because out-of-state hunters pay higher license fees than in-state hunters do, according to the Division of Wildlife.

If he serves on the commission, Sewell said he plans to keep an open mind about his supporters and critics.

"You've got to take whatever they say," Sewell said. "You've got to listen, and you have to be fair."

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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