New hunting regulations inspire movement by local merchants | CraigDailyPress.com

New hunting regulations inspire movement by local merchants

Tyler Baskfield

— With archery elk season already started, controversy over possible changes in hunting regulations for the next five years is growing faster than occupancy rates at local hotels.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) has given the State Wildlife Commission its suggestions on regulations for the next five-year hunting plan and many chambers of commerce around the state are upset over what they see, including the Craig Chamber of Commerce.

The possible limiting of out-of-state hunters has been a catalyst for the chambers in Northwest Colorado to band together in a letter writing campaign.

The movement has gained support from Sam Cassidy, the president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry. Cassidy has taken it upon himself to write both Gov. Bill Owens and his senior adviser John Swartout, asking for their help in making sure the proposal to limit out-of-state hunters is not passed into the regulations for the next five-year hunting plan. According to Cassidy, the limiting of out-of-state hunters could devastate some of the smaller economies in Northwest Colorado.

“Out-of-state hunting revenue is so important to businesses in Northwest Colorado, that it would compare to the importance of telecommunications industries to the Front Range,” said Cassidy. “This is not a hobby for these merchants, not something to do on a Saturday afternoon if the fish aren’t biting. It’s food on the table and a roof over their head and it should be treated with as much respect.”

Cathy Vanatta, director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, and Patricia Snidow, member of the Board of Directors of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, are leading the charge on a local level to keep out-of-state hunters from being limited. Along with Cassidy they have some powerful ammunition to help explain the effect of the limitation of out-of-state hunters on rural economies in Northwest Colorado, including the testimonials of local merchants and the case history of the Town of Dinosaur.

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In a letter to Greg Walcher, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), both Vanatta and Snidow explained the devastating effect of limiting hunters in game Unit 10 near Dinosaur in 1990 had on the economy of the town and also pointed to testimony from Jim Simos, Owner of Cashway Distributors, a Craig sporting goods store.

Limiting out-of-state hunters would not only reduce the amount of hunters allowed to hunt in Colorado, reducing retail sales, but to monitor out-of-state hunters, it’s possible the Division of Wildlife would also have to change the way licenses are sold. This change could hit sporting goods retailers even harder.

To track out-of-state hunters the sale of licenses through the DOW in Denver would almost be a necessity. The sale of licenses through the DOW in Denver would minimize the amount of walk-in traffic that many retail stores depend on during hunting season.

According to Simos’ testimony, this change in operations could ruin his business.

“In 1998 I sold 112 resident deer licenses at $20.25 each for a total of $2,280,” said Simos. “During that same period I sold 650 non-resident deer licenses at $150.25 each for a total of $97,612. The opportunity to be a point-of-sale outlet is indispensable to my operation. Retail sales depend on walk-in traffic, and remaining a licensing agent allows me to draw those hunters into my store. This source of traffic is critical to the continued success of my business.”

Along with the chambers of commerce, local governments are also joining the opposition to the proposed changes. Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, a member of the Colorado Wildlife Commission, doesn’t like what she sees on the hunting horizon.

Limiting out-of-state hunters is an issue Raftopoulos believes the Wildlife Commission needs more public input.

“It’s important for local hunters to have a quality hunt but it is also important that local businesses don’t suffer, either,” said Raftopoulos. “It could be economically devastating to Northwest Colorado. I want everyone (on the State Wildlife Commission) to hear from the business owners and the people who are affected by the policy the most.”

The Wildlife Commission will hear public testimony on the five-year policy Thursday starting at 8:40 a.m. in Grand Junction at the Grand Vista Hotel. Snidow will give testimony on behalf of the Craig, Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Meeker, Rangely and Dinosaur chambers of commerce.

Snidow is encouraging support from as many local business owners as possible either through their attendance at the meeting or letters that she can read to the Wildlife Commission. Anyone with questions may contact Snidow at the Craig Chamber of Commerce at 824-3046.