Tweaks to vouchers on the table
SB13-188 seeks to improve problematic big game program
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-03-28
What has proven to be a problematic program since its inception in 2002 has once again returned to the cutting room.
Senate Bill 13-188 — which seeks to make changes to the current “Priority Landowner Preference,” or landowner voucher, program in the state of Colorado — sailed through the Senate in recent weeks and is slated to reach the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee April 10.
The program, which has undergone changes as recently as 2007, was originally created with the intent of opening up private land to more hunters, while also offering some incentive for ranchers to conserve crucial wildlife habitat.
According to the nine person “Landowner Voucher Review Committee” — which was formed in 2009 and met a total of 22 times over the course of two years in order to sort out the issues at stake — there is no silver bullet within SB13-188 that will satisfy all parties involved.
“Our recommendations are not perfect and will not satisfy everyone,” the committee stated in their final recommendation to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission. “However, based on our hundreds of hours of collective deliberation and individual reflection, we believe that these recommendations represent the best thinking about how to improve the Landowner Preference Program and produce better outcomes for wildlife, hunters, landowners and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.”
In the current program, 15 percent of the big game tags for elk, deer and pronghorn antelope in every limited Game Management Unit (GMU) across the state are set aside for private landowners. Those tags are then made available via a closed lottery system, which allows the landowners to receive a number of applications based on the size of their property.
The proposed changes in SB13-188, sponsored by state Sen. Gail Schwartz, would replace the current state-wide program with a two-part solution: West of I-25, the total amount of tags set aside would bump up to 20 percent and be split in half — 10 percent which are open to unit-wide hunting (public or private lands) and the other 10 percent which are restricted to private land in the GMU. East of I-25, 15 percent of all tags would be available for unit-wide hunts and another 10 percent would be restricted for use by “immediate family or youth on private land in the qualifying unit.”
The bill would also tighten the eligibility requirements for participating landowners. It would eliminate the system which bases the number of applications that can be submitted on total acreage of a property and rein in property owners who abuse the program via audits and verification of applications, among other things.
While multiple local landowners contacted for this story would not share their opinion about the proposed changes on the record, both the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and Colorado Farm Bureau signed off in support of SB13-188 before it was presented to the legislature in early March.
“(SB13-188), enhancements to the landowner voucher program, rewards landowners for providing habitat for the state’s big game populations and increases opportunities for a wide variety of sportsmen to hunt the state’s private and public lands,” said CCA Executive Vice President Terry Fankhauser. Fankhauser went on to say that other program enhancements made by the legislation will ensure the integrity of the program and that landowners who use the program are in fact the ones providing habitat for the state’s deer, elk and pronghorn.
Certain segments of the sporting community haven’t been quite as willing to support the changes. Members of the group Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (COBHA) voiced their opposition to the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee at a hearing held on March 6.
“Specifically, our main concern is with the proposed 5 percent increase in private tags in the West and 10 percent increase in the East,” said Tim Brass, media coordinator for COBHA. “This will result in an overall loss of opportunity by average hunters and therefore we wholeheartedly oppose this provision.”
Before SB13-188 can be made into law, it must first pass through the House and be signed by the governor.
For a more comprehensive run down of the proposed changes, visit wildlife.state.co.us and navigate to the “Landowner Preference” page under the “Big Game” tab.
(Matt Smith can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)