Legislators target landowner voucher abuse
By Charlie Meyers
Denver Post Staff Writer
One involves action, the other talk, but the overall result from the separate initiatives of two Colorado legislators is likely to produce the same desired result.
Finally, after months of ineffectual wrangling in official wildlife circles, the knotty issue of landowner voucher abuse will be aired in a more public forum, a discourse that just might lead to badly needed reform.
Rep. John Soper, D-Northglenn, today is scheduled to introduce legislation that proposes to alter both the structure of the state wildlife hierarchy and the way preference licenses for big game are doled out.
In short order, Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Adams County, will initiate hearings on the allocation of these landowner vouchers, with an eye toward possible future legislative activity.
In both cases, the concern is the same: that a voucher program intended as personal and limited license relief for landowners has evolved into a nightmare of commercial manipulation that threatens the fabric of Colorado hunting.
Soper's bill aims for a return to the original purpose of license preference, which was to provide landowners a guaranteed tag to hunt on their own land.
"The rationale is to start that debate, to get those discussions going and shine some light on the issue," said John Berry, a Denver attorney and lobbyist for the Colorado Sportsmen's Coalition, a supporter of the bill.
Tochtrop called a meeting of the Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus, a forum that of late had fallen into disuse but on Thursday attracted a turnout of a dozen state senators and representatives who have taken sudden interest in license matters.
The gathering at the state Capitol also enticed members of the Colorado Wildlife Federation and other outdoor enthusiasts who spoke against perceived abuses in the current voucher system.
In conclusion, the senator declared her intent to conduct hearings to gather further public testimony on license issues that strike to the very heart of fairness in the outdoor environment.
Landowners currently receive 15 percent of these licenses off the top and 18 months ago launched an all-out campaign for more, a push that continues at every level of formal wildlife management. Only recently has the average sportsman begun to resist.
The most fundamental objection to the voucher system is that it allows wealthy hunters who can afford to pay fees that sometimes range to five figures to jump to the head of the line for the most desirable tags. Next comes the visual obscenity of finding Colorado's best hunting opportunities flaunted on eBay and the websites of license brokers, many from out of state.
Certain reforms might solve most of these ills:
Restrict vouchers to the property owned by the person to which they were issued. This basic element of fairness richly rewards landowners who actually harbor wildlife, not those who don't. It also eliminates undue competition with public hunters on public land, a growing source of abuse and conflict. Requiring voucher holders to use private land also serves to distribute animals that currently use these enclaves for refuge, one of the thorny problems of wildife management.
Eliminate the transfer of vouchers to third parties. Landowners who hold vouchers should designate them directly to family, friends or the hunters who will use them - not to brokers or outfitters for escalating resale.
Hunters who purchase vouchers for areas that require preference points should forfeit whatever points they might possess, just like everyone else.
A current system that allows thousands of leftover vouchers to go unused, with a loss of public opportunity in the most desirable hunt units, must be changed. The recent decision by the Wildlife Commission to charge $25 for unused vouchers is tantamount to putting a Band-Aid on an amputation - classic of that body's impotent approach to a problem raging out of control.
Most of these elements by law require legislative process. It's a course of action long overdue.
Charlie Meyers can be reached at 303-820-1609 or firstname.lastname@example.org.