July 25, 2020

Fishing License Sales Rise as SWA Rule Begins

Front page photo from the Wet Mountain Tribune, July 16, 2020.
I was talking with a game warden from one of the mountain counties three days ago during one my "wildlife transport" runs, and I asked her how the new requirement — that you must have a hunting or fishing license to use state wildlife areas — was working out for field officers like herself.

Right now, we are just trying to educate people, she said, adding that people would get in her face and yell about "I pay taxes!"

Which  goes to show how ignorant they are. You could pay $10,000 a year in state income tax, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife would get little if any of it. (But do buy lottery tickets, because some of that money goes to state parks.)

Click to enlarge (San Bernardino
Natonal Forest on Facebook)
Meanwhile, she said, virtually every campsite in her area, developed or not, was in use. Maybe it's time for people to try this creative approach, pioneered in California--see graphic at right.

1. Not all state wildlife areas (SWAs) are owned by the state.  See the lake in the photo above? It's owned by a Cañon City-based irrigation company. I know this because I used to be a shareholder and watered our trees and gardens with that water. But I could safely bet that 95-percent of visitors (iincuding locals) think it's "public land," whereas in fact CPW leases fishing rights, including boating-while-fishing, and does permit cmaping. There are other SWAs that also are leased, although many are owned outright.

Colorado’s SWAs are acquired with license dollars from hunters and anglers – and are managed with that funding today – primarily to restore, conserve, manage and enhance wildlife and wildlife habitat.

2. CPW gets virtually no state income tax money. That is actually a good thing, because then legislators cannot raid CPW's budget to pay for their more-favored projects. Click here for pie charts of Wildlife and Parks funding.

Notice that the wildlife side is 68-percent funded by license sales and 19-percent by federal grants. ("Severance tax" refers to taxes on mining, oil, etc. not personal taxes.)

3. The federal grants are tied to hunting/fishing license sales. I have heard people say this is Donald Trump's fault. No, it is Franklin Roosevelt's "fault," since the controlling Pittman-Roberton Act was passed in 1937. The act directs money from federal taxes on firearms and ammunition down to the states with these guidelines:
States must fulfill certain requirements to use the money apportioned to them. None of the money from their hunting license sales may be used by anyone other than the states' own fish and game departments. Plans for what to do with the money must be submitted to and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Acceptable options include research, surveys, management of wildlife and/or habitat, and acquisition or lease of land. Once a plan has been approved, the state must pay the full cost and is later reimbursed for up to 75% of that cost through the funds generated by the Pittman–Robertson Act.The 25% of the cost that the state must pay generally comes from its hunting license sales.If, for whatever reason, any of the federal money does not get spent, after two years that money is then reallocated to the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
Some people say that Pittman-Robertson should be extended to hiking books, backcountry skis, backpacking gear, etc. An interesting thought.
Sanchez Reservoir is near the town
of San Luis in the southern San Luis Valley

4. Why is this access issue coming up now? I  will just quote a recent CPW news release:
Across the state, CPW has seen increasing use of state wildlife areas inconsistent with their purpose. A good example is camping, including people taking up temporary residence in SWAs. We’ve also seen vehicular use on big game winter ranges, pressure from hikers, maintenance issues, trash, vandalism and other uses detrimental to wildlife and wildlife-related uses.
5. So why can't I buy a "hiking pass" or a "wildlife-watching pass? See #3. A "hiking pass" would not bring in any of the federal grant money that state wildlife management depends on. CPW tried something like that in the recent past, but got into a hassle with the federal government:
Several years ago, the General Assembly voted to require all users of SWAs to purchase a state Wildlife Habitat Stamp as a way to generate conservation funding.

It failed for a couple reasons. First, only hunters or anglers complied, for the most part. Those who only hike or watch wildlife or camp didn’t bother to buy the stamp.

Second, funding for SWAs actually fell because federal officials ruled the Habitat Stamp was classified as “program income” and it ended up decreasing our federal grant money by the same amount we were able to bring in.
6. Suprise, fishing license sales are rising! According to Colorado Public Radio. "Colorado Parks and Wildlife has issued nearly 90,000 more annual fishing licenses so far this year compared to the same period in 2019." They say a lot of that is people getting outdoors during the pandemic, but also mention the new regulation. Many of these anglers are new to the sport — or at least new to it in Colorado.


Woody Meristem said...

For years state wildlife agencies have resisted funding from the general public, probably because they didn't want to have to deal with another constituency whose goals might no coincide with the goals of hunters. Now that hunting license sales are decreasing markedly the agencies are facing financial difficulties.

A user fee for users who don't buy licenses would be most appropriate, but most agencies resist that also. People who are interested in wildlife and use wildlife management areas have an obligation to help fund the agencies -- but without purchasing a license since they are not consumptive users of wildlife.

Unknown said...

Woody your comment is inaccurate. Colorado hunting license sales have been on a steady increase for the last decade. Elk and deer tags were up significantly this year even with Covid.

As the author alluded to by making users purchase fishing licenses the state is increasing the money CPW gets from the fed through the Pittman-Robertson act. This is an excise tax on firearms and archery equipment that goes directly to conservation, and is apportioned based on the number of hunting licenses sold in each state. Dingle-Johnson is the same thing but for fishing.

The main issue at play is TABOR, CPW is classified under our constitution as a business enterprise meaning that it gets little funding from the state but can sell licenses to raise funds. If CPW were to be funded from the general fund >10% it would lose that status and revenues generated by the agency would be subject to TABOR.

The CPW commission is a mix of all user groups and if you watch their meetings you will see they strive to think about mixed use of our public resources.

Woody Meristem said...

Unknown, Nationwide hunting license sales have been decreasing for many years, Colorado may be an outlier if hunting license sales have been increasing. According to the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service the number of hunters has dropped by 1 1/2 million since 2001. Here in Pennsylvania 7.6% of the population hunts, but 19% actively watch wildlife and the number of hunting licenses sold has significantly diminished in recent years, reflecting a general nation-wide trend.

Remember, in the U.S. all species of wildlife belongs to the public as a whole, not just those who purchase licenses. In most states hunters have certainly made significant monetary investments in land that benefits all wildlife -- even if that land is primarily managed for game species. However, a significant portion of the land managed by wildlife agencies has been acquired through transfers from other purchasers (Federal government, land trusts, etc.) that land can only be described as publicly financed. And, in some areas most hunting occurs on land owned by the general public - national and state forests, wildlife refuges, county land, BLM lands - not on land owned by wildlife agencies.

Now I'll get off my soapbox.

Chas S. Clifton said...

In Colorado, Woody, as I mentioned, the "state wildlife areas" were not transferred from federal jurisdiction for the most part.

Some are privately owned and leased by the state. I can think of several hunting/fishing areas centered on reservoirs that are owned by irrigation companies, because irrigation is Big Deal here and the companies own reservoirs miles and miles away from their members' ag lands.

But a lot of them are leased by CPW from the state government itself. A state agency leasing from state government? Why? How?

Because these lands were "state trust lands," given to the state at statehood for the purpose of financing education and other Good Stuff. The idea is that they are leased for grazing, mining, oil & gas, ec. for the most part. But sometimes CPW can convince the State Land Board that they should lease the lands for public recreation.

Just this spring, 210,000 acres, mostly on the Plains, were made open to hunters. The news release said,

"Public access for wildlife-related recreation on state trust lands is made possible through the Public Access Program, a lease agreement between the State Land Board and CPW. CPW is funding the expansion of the program through hunting and fishing license fees made available through the ‘Future Generations Act’ approved by the Colorado General Assembly in 2018."

Many people still understand why the public does not have access to ALL state land. This is an ongoing issue. Sometimes it's surrounded by private ranch land, for example, or there are other legal obstacles.

To repeat, CPw does not own a lot of what it manages as state wildlife areas.