Legislators, candidates discuss DOW

Contact information

Listed below is the contact

information for each legislator and candidate cited in this article.

• Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs

970-879-3600

P.O. Box 775656

Steamboat Springs, CO 80477

Web site: www.senatorjackta...>

• Rep. Al White, R-Hayden,

candidate for Senate District 8

303-866-2949

P.O. Box 1627

Hayden, CO 81639

Web site: www.alwhite4co.co...>

• Ken Brenner, Democratic

candidate for Senate District 8

970-846-5645

PO Box 775654

Steamboat Springs, CO 80477

Web site: www.kenbrenner.co...>

• Todd Hagenbuch, Democratic

candidate for House District 57

970-846-5607

P.O. Box 1

Phippsburg, CO 80469

Web site: www.toddforcolora...>

• Randy Baumgardner, Republican

candidate for House District 57

970-509-9187

PO Box 108

Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado 80451

Web site: www.randybaumgard...>

— Since February, the Daily Press has followed the Colorado Division of Wildlife's big game herd management practices in Northwest Colorado.

The Daily Press reported during the winter months cases where Craig and Moffat County residents had problems with elk, deer and antelope either in town or on their property. Stories also reported about when DOW officials removed animals from someone's land and when the agency began baiting animals away from private property in March.

On April 2, the Daily Press reported the DOW had conducted two investigations of two Moffat County ranchers suspected of illegally killing wildlife on their property: Rodney Culverwell, 41, and Kenneth Wolgram, 43.

Wolgram pleaded guilty to reduced charges Aug. 14.

Before his plea agreement, Wolgram was charged with 51 assorted felonies and misdemeanors.

Per plea terms, he was convicted of nine counts of illegal possession of wildlife, a misdemeanor, and he received a deferred sentence on nine counts of willful destruction of wildlife, a Class 5 felony.

Later in August, Culverwell pleaded not guilty to all charges, which, for him, were 16 Class 5 felonies and 64 misdemeanors. His defense attorney, Pamela Mackey, of Denver, claimed any elk Culverwell killed this winter were because he was forced to defend his property from wildlife that continually ate his hay and destroyed fences.

A jury of 12 Moffat County residents convicted Culverwell of 16 charges - including four Class 5 felonies - relating to the deaths of four elk found on his ranch. Culverwell was found innocent of illegally killing any elk he testified were shot in defense of property.

Mackey said the verdict showed Moffat County residents think landowners have a right to defend their property from wildlife. She also questioned, along with several local landowners who testified in Culverwell's defense, whether the DOW is fulfilling its responsibilities to manage wildlife populations.

DOW officials have said their agency must follow the rules and regulations set by the Colorado Legislature and Wildlife Commission. In some cases, officials said, the regulations prevent the DOW from offering the kind of assistance landowners sometimes request.

Below are statements from legislators who represent Moffat County at the state Capitol in Denver, as well as from candidates who seeking those offices in November. Here are their opinions on current game management policies, as well as any measures they would seek to change those policies:

Q: What is your opinion of the Colorado Division of Wildlife's big game management policies in Northwest Colorado, specifically regarding elk, deer and antelope?

• Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs: The DOW management policies should apply equally all across Colorado. This past winter, a substantial amount of emergency money was pent in the Gunnison area, but Northwest Colorado seemed to have been left out, or shorted of such funding. If more money and/or hay had been available on a broader basis, it probably would have eliminated or reduced the number of unfortunate incidents that occurred in Northwest Colorado last winter.

The Wildlife Commission should consider establishing and implementing a Severe Winter Emergency Fund (or similar mechanism) to provide the necessary funding to address this issue.

• Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, candidate for Senate District 8: The Division needs to better assess herd distress levels in severe winters, like we had last year, and step in with aggressive feeding programs, which would largely mitigate the kind of problems we saw in our region last winter that were the result of starvation-maddened animals. They should have come to the (Colorado Legislature) Joint Budget Committee with a larger (emergency funding) request or an additional request when it became apparent that the condition of the (Northwest) Colorado elk herd was dire.

• Ken Brenner, of Steamboat Springs, Democratic candidate for Senate District 8: Generally, the DOW does a professional job managing the big game herds in Northwest Colorado, and their policies are developed through a public process with the Wildlife Commission. Their policies must allow for significant variations in the weather and impacts from increasing energy development and recreation use that are all influencing wildlife habitat. The DOW supports the hunting and fishing tourism industry in Northwest Colorado that generates $45 million annually for rural communities that count on recreation to diversify their economy.

• Todd Hagenbuch, of Phippsburg, Democratic candidate for House District 57: As a rancher, I am fully aware of the impacts wildlife can have on ranching. Torn-down fencing, loss of hay, lost productivity and more are impacts landowners deal with regularly when living with wildlife. Those who engage in farming and ranching activities struggle with narrow profit margins in perfect circumstances, and adding wildlife damage losses to the mix can create a real hardship on local families trying to make it in agriculture.

Wildlife benefits local landowners, as well. As have many others, we have taken advantage of the wildlife on our property and charge hunters a "trespass fee" to hunt and/or fish on our property. The money gained from this endeavor sometimes exceeds the financial losses we experience due to wildlife damage, and sometimes it falls short of the expenses we incur because of wildlife damage. We also plan and budget for wildlife damage, as we feel that it is "collateral damage": just one of the many costs of doing business one experiences in a business that depends on so many things undependable, like weather, market prices, etc. This past winter was especially difficult on anyone living in Northwest Colorado, wildlife included. I can see how those (agriculture) producers not prepared for such a winter may have been caught unaware, making losses of already limited feed supplies even harder.

• Randy Baumgardner, of Hot Sulphur Springs, Republican candidate for House District 57: I'm still looking into the game management policies and, at this time, do not have enough data to form a decision on their policies at this time.

Q: Has the DOW done an appropriate job assisting landowners with wildlife issues?

• Taylor: The DOW should be more attentive, responsive and less heavy-handed to ranchers and landowner in all of Colorado, particularly in severe winters like 2007-08.

When a rancher needs emergency help, he needs it fast, or he wouldn't be calling. The DOW needs to establish a better method of quick response. If elk are in a haystack or in a hay meadow, the DOW should be on-site quickly to evaluate what is the best method to disburse the animals or determine the best action plan.

The DOW should listen more to the ranchers. They are the stewards of the land, provide much of the fee for wildlife, and have a good handle on when there are too many elk, dear and antelope. Listen to their herd population numbers, because they see those animals every day - especially in the winter - and have pretty accurate numbers.

• White: (When Yampa Valley ranchers Mark and Karen Schrode applied for game damage reimbursement this winter), the DOW ... denied the game damage claim based on the Division's suggestion that Mr. Schrode inadequately protected his stack pile from elk access. My point is, if every rancher had protected every bite of hay from elk depredation, then where would the state's (northwest) elk herd have fed? Obviously last winter, they would not have. They would have starved, and winter game kill would have been far larger than it already was. Given the high price of nonresident elk tags, if Mr. Schrode's stack pile provided forage that saved potentially 100 of the 200 elk that fed there, I would say the DOW still made a nice profit, even after the game damage claim was paid.

• Brenner: Last year, we experienced an extremely tough winter that increased the number of conflicts between wildlife and landowners. The DOW worked hard to address and reduce the conflicts caused by record snowfall throughout western Colorado. More supplemental feeding and baiting in a severe situation like last year would have helped address both animal health and landowner conflicts. Increasing the number of staff on the ground in critical areas for faster response would also help address this issue.

All of these programs need to be periodically evaluated to make sure they are meeting the intended objectives. It is important to keep a healthy and productive working relationship between the DOW and landowners in order to maintain healthy wildlife populations.

• Hagenbuch: The Division of Wildlife faced an uphill battle this past winter. With record snowfall and increased hay prices, I can see where the Division couldn't have had the resources available to take care of wildlife needs at a time when it was most critical.

As a rancher whose family shares multiple property boundaries with the DOW and has to deal with the organization on a number of issues regularly, we don't always see eye-to-eye. We have always maintained a good working relationship with our local officers and our local office, though, and I would expect to maintain that relationship with the Division if elected to the State House. The advisarial role that is often taken by our elected leadership when dealing with the DOW is not constructive, and only by working with one another are we going to solve the issues I state above.

• Baumgardner: I believe in some areas, there is adequate assistance and in some areas, there might be a shortage of materials or manpower. It may be something that should (be) looked into.

Q: Should Colorado laws be changed to allow the DOW to respond differently to issues between landowners and wildlife?

• Taylor: One that should be changed and perhaps could be done by rules instead of legislation is the policy the DOW uses regarding providing fencing materials to the ranchers. That wording calls for "no game damage reimbursement for 30 years after such fencing material has been provided." That does not seem very logical, because fences don't last that long in these heavy winters.

Statues (also) state that if a property owner receives $100 or more in proceeds from allowing hunters on his property, he is ineligible for game damage. This is inequitable and should also be looked at.

(Finally), the DOW has Enterprise status, which gives them almost total exemption from oversight by anyone or anybody except the Wildlife Commission. The Legislature can, however, change statutes, and from time to time may have to consider such action depending upon the situation - including looking at their Enterprise status.

• White: At this time, I am not contemplating any change in current statute regarding game management, though I would consider doing so if the Division came to me with a change they believed would free them up to better manage herds. The DOW came to the Joint Budget Committee last year and requested $1.74 million for emergency feeding and baiting operations primarily in the Gunnison Valley, but also in (Northwest) Colorado secondarily. From what I have heard, the operations in the Gunnison region were successful, but I believe the Division, focusing on Gunnison, didn't pay enough attention to what was transpiring in our region. As a result, we had large herds of elk that were in severe levels of starvation distress and were maddened to find forage. Testimony in both the (Rodney) Culverwell trial and the Schrode game damage appeal point to that being the case.

• Brenner: The DOW may need more flexibility with policies and discretion with their budget in years affected by extreme or unusual weather conditions like last year.

There are changes to the game damage laws that should be revisited after over 20 years. For instance, the rule that a rancher is prohibited from receiving game damage money if he receives more than $100 (per) person for hunting does not reflect the current reality.

Rules for a different program, similar to Ranch for Wildlife, that helps smaller landowners with less than 10,000 acres should be considered. More availability of hunting vouchers for smaller landowners should also be discussed.

I will encourage the Wildlife Commission to engage the general public, landowners, hunters, Colorado Cattlemen Association, Colorado Farm Bureau and Farmer's Union, Colorado Woolgrowers Association and DOW staff to examine the game damage system and license allocation structure. From these meetings may come suggestions that will need legislative attention in the 2009 session.

• Hagenbuch: It is important to realize that there is some legislation that may need to be revisited to deal with wildlife impacts on agriculture. As I understand the current law, anyone who charges more than $100 a gun for a trespass fee for hunting on their property foregoes the opportunity to make claims for reimbursement of hay lost to wildlife consumption and other wildlife damage claims. In today's world of $150/ton hay and other increased input costs on the farm and ranch, we must revisit this limit and other language that limits the amount of damage a landowner can claim and recieve compensation for. If elected, I would like to revist this issue, and I would introduce and/or support legislation that would allow for increased compensation to livestock producers when they are damaged by wildlife, and would like to provide greater resources to both DOW and the producers who are dealing with this issue, especially in winters as difficult as the 2007-08 winter.

• Baumgardner: I think if there is a way that DOW can handle issues between landowners and wildlife without legislation, it would be better than to have laws that would have to be followed and not have the flexibility to work with landowners to find solutions to problems.

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