Colorado Parks and Wildlife has not raised its hunting and fishing license fees since 2005, and as an enterprise agency, it receives a small percentage of its budget from general tax funds.
Finding ways to raise fees and licenses without keeping people from heading outdoors is part of the agency's challenge.
On Monday, CPW offices in Durango, Montrose and Gunnison met via videolink to discuss ways for the agency to raise more money, while discussing issues the agency is facing this year, such as chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, as well as a spike in bear conflicts with humans and livestock.
A bill to address the budget issues was submitted to the 2017 Colorado General Assembly. The bill passed with bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives but did not reach the Senate floor when it failed to pass out of committee by a vote of 3-2.
The bill requested for the Colorado Wildlife Commission be able to peg license fees to the inflation rate so the agency isn't consistently falling years behind in its funding.
In Durango, about 10 members of the public and five CPW staff members listened to the presentation. The presentation then broke into local meetings to discuss the issues facing the agency.
While one attendee in Gunnison said he can't afford paying more for licenses, some said the agency should do away with all its free licenses, including senior fishing licenses for $1.
"Most of my friends can afford a fishing license," Durango attendee Tom Brossia said. The agency is considering raising the senior fishing license to $8, primarily to cover costs, but also to be eligible for federal matching funds. That could bring in about $1.6 million annually, staff estimated.
On the flip side, the agency is considering allowing youth 16 and 17 to be able to fish without a license. Currently, 16-year-olds need to buy a license.
Sending hunting licenses electronically, or by using a cell phone app, also could save money, said hunters attending the Durango meeting. The agency currently mails out its licenses after hunters apply to draw tags. Utah and New Mexico already provide licenses via an app. Licensing bicyclists and hikers also was an idea tossed out from the Gunnison meeting.
Before the financial discussions, biologists from around Southwest Colorado discussed issues the agency is dealing with this fall.
Bear conflicts was at the top of the list in Durango.
"It's definitely been a challenging year for bears," said Matt Thorpe with the Durango CPW office. For the first two weeks in July, the office was fielding about 100 calls per day from Pagosa Springs to Cortez, ranging from sightings to bears breaking into homes.
"It's a natural food failure here," he said of the late frost and June drought, so bears have been aggressively trying to find food.
Newcomers and tourists leaving out food for bears to eat, along with some locals, has made it tough for staff this year, who don't like having to put bears down.
"They just don't get it," he said of some residents.
Montrose has more bear conflicts than usual, staff members there added, including raids on local corn crops, which hasn't happened in the past.
More bear hunters are filling their tags this fall, Thorpe said. About 30 tags were filled west of Durango the first week of bear season, which is a high number, he said.
Another issue of interest to hunters is chronic wasting disease, which has been present in Colorado since 1980 and has steadily been found further and further west, explained Scott Wade, another CPW biologist. In 2016, a deer was found with CWD southeast of Montrose. While some units require mandatory testing of animals, hunters can bring a deer or elk head to any CPW office for testing, said Joe Lewandowski, an agency spokesman.
"If you see a sick animal, we do want to know about it," Wade said.
Those unable to attend the meeting can view an online presentation which details CPW's financial challenges and proposal for increasing hunting and fishing licenses at:
Funds for the wildlife section of the agency and the park section of the agency are, by law, kept completely separate. There is no comingling of revenues or expenditures.
After watching the presentation, the public is urged to provide comments in an online survey at https://www.research.net/r/CPW-Future.