DOW eager to strike a balance

Officials present herd plans, ideas to improve relations with landowners


Bill de Vergie is committed to doing what he can to bridge the gap between the Colorado Division of Wildlife and local landowners, including the farmers and ranchers who have been critical of regional wildlife policy.

"In the next seven to nine months, I'm going to do everything I can to strengthen the relations and the communication with landowners," de Vergie said. "And I'm committed to doing that."

However, de Vergie, DOW area wildlife manager for the Meeker office, also said he knows there are many landowners who are not angry with the DOW. They appreciate the job done by his officers - who each are responsible for about 1,000 square miles - and understand the DOW's mission, he said.

In response to Rodney Culverwell's trial, de Vergie said Culverwell's was a specific incident, one that is not common and not similar to other landowners.

In his 17 years with the DOW, de Vergie could remember "maybe one" other case when officers found as many dead animals on someone's property.

Culverwell recently was convicted in Moffat County District Court of four class 5 felonies and 12 misdemeanors relating to the deaths of four elk found on his property. His defense called into question whether landowners should be allowed to kill wildlife when animals eat their crops and destroy property.

Culverwell pleaded not guilty to all charges based on his right to defend his property, himself and his family. Several local landowners testified on Culverwell's behalf, claiming similar problems with wildlife eating their crops and ineffectual responses from the DOW.

Other landowners appeared in the courtroom, but would not say on the record why.

It's in the relationships

Landowner frustration with the DOW runs deep, Roy McAnally said.

McAnally has lived in Moffat County since 1974. During that time, he raised a family, started a business and recently was named to the Colorado Wildlife Commission, a board that governs the DOW.

"I've had dealings with the Division of Wildlife most of my life," McAnally said. "Overall, I've found those dealings to be very helpful. Having said that : people here have been frustrated with the DOW for as long as there has been a DOW, probably. Consequently, I've not totally understood the root of it."

The animosity is something DOW officials and local landowners must put aside, DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said. He added that it frustrates him to see good officers vilified after trying their best.

Wildlife officers "work very hard, and they do all they can," he said. "This was a tough winter. We haven't seen a winter like this in 10 years. We're doing the best we can to try and have some foresight, but we're also working with the very limited budget we have."

Being angry with wildlife officers does nothing to help Moffat County, Hampton said.

"What I don't want to see happen : is all this frustration rise up against the officers on the ground," he said. "I would hope people could start to bring officers into the community, because that's how we can solve some of these issues."

If DOW officers don't feel safe for themselves and their families, they leave the area, Hampton said. That makes it near impossible to keep seasoned officers who know local people and issues in Northwest Colorado.

"There is part of this that is our responsibility," Hampton added. "We need to take care of our part. We've got another winter coming and not a lot of time to prepare."

If the next winter is anything like the last one, de Vergie said his office has learned from its mistakes last year.

"Obviously, if we have a winter similar to the one last year, our reaction time to have tools and materials to landowners is going to have to be faster," de Vergie said.

The DOW has a store of wooden panels in place for landowners that might need fencing help, he said. His officers also have delivered permanent fencing to "dozens" of local residents.

The DOW didn't leave Moffat County to its own devices last year, either, Hampton said. With the exception of one large damage claim from a sunflower farm in southwest Colorado, the DOW Meeker office paid out more than twice the amount of game damage reimbursement than any of the other 17 DOW offices around the state.

It's in the numbers

The underlying issue, however, is that local landowners think there are too many elk, deer and antelope.

Culverwell testified, and other landowners have said the problem with DOW game management is that there are too many animals roaming Moffat County.

If more animals were hunted each year, or killed or moved by other means, then locals wouldn't have wildlife problems, they said. Their statements contended the DOW has not done its mandated job to manage wildlife effectively.

At its Sept. 11 meeting in Steamboat Springs, the Wildlife Commission heard a report from Jamin Grigg, DOW terrestrial biologist for the Craig area, about the Division's herd management strategy and situation in the Yampa Valley.

Grigg told the Commission that the DOW's target elk population for the Bear's Ears herd in the Yampa Valley is about 16,000 elk.

Moffat County landowners have made it clear they want fewer elk here, Broderick said. The DOW cannot remove elk from the region, though, because other people want the wildlife to stay and even increase because of the tourism it brings.

Broderick said the DOW believes 16,000 elk is the meeting point for those interests.

"We want (an elk population) that deals with the problems of landowners and creates hunting opportunities," Broderick said. "The Division heard the message from the landowners. We don't have blinders on."

Grigg told the Wildlife Commission it is "obvious" the DOW did not know the right number of elk from about 1998 to 2002, but since then the DOW has admitted its mistake, and the agency has actively driven the population down.

"We're aware of the issues, and we're doing everything we can," Grigg said. "We have brought that population down. We're still harvesting at a rate that could bring this population down significantly."

Grigg told the Wildlife Commission his agency expects the Bear's Ears herd to be reduced to the target of about 16,000 elk after this hunting season.

If accurate, the estimated number of elk would be reduced by more than half since 2001.

Broderick and Grigg said it would be easier to reduce elk populations if landowners, farmers and ranchers, cooperated with that goal.

Female elk need to hunted to effectively reduce populations, but landowners typically only let bull hunters on their property, they said.

If they let hunters on to shoot females, Broderick said, it would drive away the elk before bull season, and landowners make more money charging hunters for the right to kill a trophy animal.

"The economic interest is in hunting bulls," he said. "We provide opportunity for private land hunts. There are thousands and thousands of private land hunting licenses. The real reason some of those go unsold is (landowners) preserve their bull hunting at the expense of (female) hunters."

Change is in the works

Hampton said some state legislators have approached DOW officials with ideas for changing game damage policies.

The local wildlife commissioner also believes the policies need to be changed and "updated" for current issues.

"There's a wide range of things we need to look at," McAnally said, specifically mentioning the regulation that no landowner who charges hunters more than $100 each to enter their land can receive game damage reimbursement.

"In today's market, $100 is pretty low," McAnally said. "I don't know anyone that charges $100 a hunter."

He also said DOW officers are so limited as to who they are allowed to give certain kinds of help, they often break the law to aid a resident.

"Strictly speaking, the DOW has gone over and above to help people," McAnally said. "There need to be provisions that allow that."

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or


oldsage 8 years, 7 months ago

"In the next seven to nine months, I'm going to do everything I can to strengthen the relations and the communication with landowners," de Vergie said. "And I'm committed to doing that."

Yea, with a tape recorder in your pocket in case you want to twist somebody's words later to prosecute them!

Let's talk about "Reaching out to ranchers to solve game damage issues" You sure solved that one didn't you! Now everyone knows exactly how the DOW operates and you think lying to the people about it for the next seven to nine months is going to help. LOL Go talk to a parked car!


buck523 8 years, 7 months ago

I thnk the DOW is stuck in the middle of somewhere. The big ranchers don't like them and the regular people who hunt don't like them because we tend to think they cater to the big ranchers. They cater with the landowner tags that are given, ranching for wildlife, etc. Tell me how it would take me18 years to get a bull tag on cold springs, yet there is a big rancher there who gets a large number of them every year to sell and use as they wish? This is the stuff I don't get nor like. I truly wish we would go to a system like Wyomings. We would be much better off.


slipknot 8 years, 7 months ago

Maybe we don't have enough hunters/sportsmen representation on the commission to the good ideas pushed through. I think our state legislature is overloaded with people who are not concerned with what you and I want from the fish and game commission anyway and we're sure not gonna get it from a Front Range Government. DOW is a Denver organization.


oldsage 8 years, 7 months ago

I know, how would you like to be married to the guy? Or for that matter any of those other guys who lie for a living?


DV8 8 years, 7 months ago

It's about time to see a possible provision about charging hunters to hunt on their lands. If ranchers don't want the wild animals on their land, they should allow hunters to go in and hunt them. Those that charge ridiculous fees to hunt on their land have no right to complain about the deer and elk being on their land. They have options to thin the heard, but greed takes over. The idea of "I don't want the elk on my land, so I will make people pay me to help me out by getting rid of some of them" doesn't make sense to me... You can't have your cake and eat it too.


slipknot 8 years, 7 months ago

I Think our state wildlife board should be nominated by a voice of the people and voted upon during the regular election. With two each serving 3 years 4 years and 3 each serving 6 years, with term limitation in place after 3 terms for each candidate. But and this is the big hold up each candidate would have to be from a district where wildlife outnumbered people.


Taxpayer 8 years, 7 months ago

Interesting that according to a member of the commission from Moffat County says the officers break the law to help the residents. So which laws can be broken and by whom? Why not allow tags to be purchased after the season starts -- or give additional license at a reduced rate after the purchase of the first license. I can't believe the Commission can't come up with ideas, there are several great ideas already on the forum. Maybe they don't want any suggestions. Right now, I consider DOW in the same boat as FEMA after Katrina! Lack of accountability and responsibility combined with action paralysis!


slipknot 8 years, 7 months ago

Remember these are all good ideas, but the landowners are also blocking access to more public land than what they own, where is the fairness in that?


grannyrett 8 years, 7 months ago

Excellent comment slipknot. If only they would do it. But, it seems that a collage degree is more important than common sense. Maybe we need a few farmers and ranchers on the board too. I guess that what makes me the maddest is that during hunting season, they want the elk there because it brings in the big dollars for trespass fees, and then when they start feeding cattle, the elk are just suppose to disappear. Maybe, those kind of ranchers need to figure out how to teach the elk to read calendars, so they will know when it is time to move on. Seems that if you don't try to get rid of them during hunting season, you can't whine when they stay and eat your hay. I don't know. I guess maybe some of them not only want their cake, they want ice cream with it too.


Taxpayer 8 years, 7 months ago

Most expensive degree I ever got was my PHD from the School of Hard Knocks! My BS degree was a lot cheaper and much easier to attain after working in the Corporate world and having to face reality on a daily basis. I don't mind appointments to commissions as long as the person is an open mind for that commission. I truly believe there needs to be a big housecleaning of DOW and we need it now! Hunting seasons are almost upon us, and things won't get any better. I wish the Daily Press would print again by name who gets the damage payments from wildlife destroying their property or animals, $$ for Ranching for Wildlife, etc. Also, when is someone going to realize that WE own the BLM land, and perhaps the rent on those acres needs to be increased. Just a thought.


slipknot 8 years, 7 months ago

It appears most of us agree on several points. Whether or not our past educations were formal with paper degrees from large colleges or from the school of real life with PHD's, I think we all agree that Colorado's DOW sucks. They're underfunded and overstaffed by overeducated dunderheads with big egos. The few that I've met are wanna bees. As far as increasing the rent on the BLM acres; BLM needs to actually count the cows that are out there and charge accordingly, it's called AUM, and make sure that guys like Rodney don't slip an extra 4 or 5 head out with the cows he's paying for I know that the real ranchers will say that the AUM is too high and they, like us are entitled to use the land cause they're taxpayers too, but on the other hand what gives them the right to block access to public land with their private land, or charge a trespass fee then get a damage payment. That's the part that really gets to me, I could care less if the elk eat some of those guys out of house and home. I guess that's why I've got such a bad attitude towards DOW and Rodney both. Sorry.


slipknot 8 years, 7 months ago

Patrick: thanks for the compliment, this all means, with the beetle kill timber, the over populations of elk, the trouble that guys like Rodney find themselves in all boils down to one thing: and that is we have tried to take the place of mother nature in managing things. As a result we have great herds of elk with no natural predators, who try to go where they would have gone a hundred years ago and eat what they would have eaten back then, and winter would have taken its' toll and nature would be in control. The main control in the forests would be fire. When I was younger, 50 years ago the beetle was unheard of, of course so was the number of elk that we have now. We had a decent deer herd and a fair elk hunt but things were nothing like they are now. We need to let nature control nature and stop jumping on each little single tree fire and maybe BLM will shrink because of disuse. Although I doubt that will ever happen. When nature runs its course things most generally turn out for the best, not always but most always..


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