Colorado DOW Approves Big Game License Numbers

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On Thursday, May 3, the Colorado Wildlife Commission approved 2007 big game license numbers during their May meeting in Grand Junction. The Commission also approved mandatory mountain lion hunter education and discussed possible regulations for exotic animal parks and sanctuaries.

The Wildlife Commission sets annual big game license numbers at its meeting each May. Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) terrestrial biologists provided an update on license recommendations for 2007. License numbers are set to maintain big game herds at or near long-term population objectives and in the case of deer, elk and pronghorn, license numbers are also set to achieve sex ratio objectives.

For the most part, hunters will not notice significant changes in license availability in 2007. Colorado's deer and elk populations remain healthy and stable and license availability should again be good. The largest change from the previous year's hunting licenses has to do with the blizzard of 2006 that struck the eastern plains of Colorado. Due to the pronghorn movements and mortality caused by the extreme conditions, fewer pronghorn hunting licenses will be available in eastern Colorado in 2007. While pronghorn licenses will decrease in the southeastern part of the state, deer licenses in eastern Colorado will increase.

"While the winter hurt pronghorn, deer seemed to come through it pretty well," explained DOW Terrestrial Section Manager Rick Kahn. "Because of the deep snow, deer were heavily concentrated in small areas where there was less snow. This made it easier to count the deer and our population estimate for some areas increased and that means additional licenses will be available this fall."

Elk hunters will find that statewide license numbers are similar to last year, but cow elk hunters should note one change. Cow elk licenses were reduced in some southwest Colorado game management units as elk populations are now at or near the population objectives in those units. At the same time, the number of cow elk licenses offered in northwest units was increased to continue to bring those populations closer to objective.

Wildlife Commissioners unanimously voted to pass the nation's first mandatory mountain lion hunter education program. The Internet-based test and certificate system was developed by DOW education personnel. The concept for a lion hunter education course was brought to the Wildlife Commission through a citizen petition process in late 2005. Two petitions were presented at that time, one from carnivore protection organizations and one from the state's mountain lion hunting organization. Both groups have been supportive and instrumental in helping develop the new education program. Beginning with the 2007 season, mountain lion hunters will be required to complete and pass the on-line test.

Wildlife Commissioners were also briefed on items that will be up for final consideration at future meetings. These items include proposed draft regulations dealing with feral hogs and proposed regulations for exotic animal parks and sanctuaries.

Feral hogs are a significant management challenge in many states to the south and east of Colorado. The DOW and Wildlife Commission are concerned that feral hog populations are expanding towards the southeastern corner of the state. Feral hogs can cause significant wildlife habitat damage and as many other states are trying to control or eliminate feral hog populations, Colorado wildlife and agriculture officials are seeking methods to prevent the expansion of these invasive animals into the state. The draft regulations include a provision that would allow the take of feral hogs without a hunting license. Final regulations will be considered by the Wildlife Commission at its July meeting in Ft. Collins.

Colorado currently has several licensed commercial wildlife parks and sanctuaries. These facilities often care for large, non-native carnivores such as tigers, African lions, cheetahs and grizzly bears. In order to address public safety concerns and assure protection for native wildlife in regard to the potential escapement of these animals, the DOW regulates these facilities and requires that they are accredited or certified by the American Zoological Association. The DOW is recommending regulations that would require each of these facilities to have a closure plan in place that would state how animals at the facility would be dealt with should the facility cease operation for any reason. Because the DOW is funded by hunter and angler dollars, the DOW is also concerned that the cost of caring for exotic animals could take funds away from other management of Colorado's wildlife. Additionally, the draft regulations would require that each of these facilities post a bond to provide funds to accomplish the closure plan. Commissioners urged staff to continue to work with sanctuary owners and interested members of the public to finalize proposed regulations. Originally this item was scheduled for final consideration in July, but Commissioners felt that additional time might allow for further fine tuning of the regulation. Final commercial wildlife park and sanctuary regulations will now be considered at the September Commission meeting in Pagosa Springs.

The May meeting is the last meeting for DOW Director Bruce McCloskey, who is retiring after 33 years of service to the DOW, three as director. Department of Natural Resources Director Harris Sherman thanked McCloskey for his years of service. McCloskey recapped the many successes he has seen during his time with the DOW and offered some thoughts on challenges that face the Division in coming years. Audience members and Commissioners gave McCloskey a standing ovation as he concluded his comments.

Sherman also announced that DOW Deputy Director Mark Konishi will serve as acting director of the DOW while a full and transparent search is conducted for a new director for the DOW. In order to make sure that no applicants have an unfair advantage for the permanent director's position, Konishi has agreed to serve as acting director and not apply for the permanent position.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission is an eleven-member board appointed by the governor. The Commission sets Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) regulations and policies for hunting, fishing, watchable wildlife, and nongame, threatened and endangered species. Commissioners also oversee DOW land purchases and property regulations.