The sun was shining when I went to take the trash out this morning and warm rays streaming down upon my face tilted the scales towards another hike this morning. I was thinking about just going for a bike ride this afternoon but I know myself too well… If I don’t get moving before about 7:00 I can be pretty sure I’m not going to get going! I’m a morning person, always have been…
Well a few steps down the trail almost had me wishing I had stayed home! It wasn’t nearly as warm on the mountain as it was in my sheltered back yard and the wind was just whipping! Fortunately my jacket has a hood or I might have gotten frost bite on my ears. On the other hand, in wind like that I’m pretty sure any ideas of a bike ride would have been abandoned for sure.
Thought it was going to be a photography shut out until just as I was making the final turn to go back to the parking lot. As I scanned the terrain I spotted the mule deer herd in the distance, contentedly grazing on mountain grass. There was no way I was going to get close to them though, you can see from the pictures that they were well aware of my presence at least 100 yards away!
Now I want to talk about something else that absolutely infuriated me yesterday. Late last light an article by the local online news site Out There Colorado alerted me to a policy enacted by Colorado Fish and Wildlife (CFW) mandating that starting in July a hunting or fishing license will be required to visit wildlife areas. Reasoning provided by CFW states “By policy, state wildlife areas are acquired with hunter and angler dollars, and are intended specifically to provide wildlife habitat and wildlife-related recreation,” said Southeast Regional Manager Brett Ackerman. “This rule is aimed at curtailing non-wildlife-related use of these properties.”.
The policy alone infuriates me enough, but the comments following the piece were even more maddening, the bulk of which lauded the new policy because basically “hunters fund these areas” and hikers and climbers, photographers and tourists have no right to be there. First of all, how is a nature hike or wildlife photography or birding considered non-wildlife use of the land?
Secondly I am sick and tired of the BS spewed by hunters that they are the only ones who have a right to the land because they are the ones who pay for it. A quick check on the Colorado funding page indicates that only 34% of the state budget comes from passes, fees and permits, a figure which does not indicate how much of that 34% is comprised of hunting and fishing licenses versus entry fees, daily and weekly visitation permits, and commercial license fees paid by professional photography and film companies for special use. A full 34%, equaling the entire portion paid for by fees is funded by the Colorado state lottery and Great Outdoors Colorado. The Federal Government kicks in another 10% of the budget of which of course is funded by the U.S. taxpayer and the remaining 22% is funded by additional non-hunting resources.
If you consider only “wildlife management”, which is not defined by the Colorado funding site, 68% is funded by license fees and permits, which again is not itemized so that we can learn how much exactly hunters are actually paying. Incidentally, the Colorado Department of Education devotes half of it’s site to education about birding, hiking, climbing, camping, and wildlife watching without disturbing the animals. I guess that half of the site will have to be eliminated in favor of only hunting and fishing if this decision is allowed to stand.
The entire premise that hunters pay for public wild lands stems from the North American Model mostly inspired by Teddy Roosevelt over 100 years ago, to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat from over hunting and development. One hundred years ago hiking, mountain climbing, mountain biking, birding, camping and photography were not really a thing and were of course not given any consideration at the time. This article in the Mountain Lion Foundation gives an indication of how much things have changed in over a century, stating that “94% of total funding for wildlife conservation and management come from the non-hunting public”. Another thoughtful article provided by WyoFile provides a similar figure, indicating that 95% of the funding for wildlife related agencies comes from the non-hunting public. This article from NPR cites a study by U.S. Fish and Wildlife that reveals only 5% of Americans 16 and older actually hunt. Other studies, especially in areas like Yellowstone in Wyoming and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, show just how much revenue the states and municipalities benefit from wildlife tourism, a figure that far exceeds the paltry sums collected by the states from hunters.
The idea that a miniscule 5% of the American populace should control the nation’s wildlife is a concept that has gone the way of the 19th century. It is well past time that the vast majority of nature loving Americans be given a voice in how our wildlife is preserved. Hopefully this egregious ruling will be quickly overturned in court and millions of Coloradoans and out of state visitors will be able to continue enjoying their land in their own way. If we continue to be denied a voice in decisions about our precious wildlife I urge you to make your voice heard at the ballot box. If our wildlife officials won’t listen, we need to vote in officials who will listen.