Commission Improves the Ranching for Wildlife Program

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At a meeting in Lamar last Thursday, the Colorado Wildlife Commission voted to adopt several regulations and endorsed other changes to the Ranching for Wildlife Program in order to address some of the concerns that have been voiced about the program by the public. Ranching for Wildlife is a twenty-year old Division of Wildlife (DOW) program that provides access to hunting licenses and flexibility in seasons to large ranches who agree to manage their lands for wildlife and allow limited public access for hunting. The program has opened more than a million acres of private land to public hunters.

Most of these changes were proposed by the Ranching for Wildlife Review Committee, a group of sportsmen, landowners, ranches, and DOW representatives.

The Commission approved a license allocation system that rewards participating ranches that agree to provide better service to public hunters on their properties, assist the DOW in reaching herd objectives or improve wildlife habitat.

Currently most Ranching for Wildlife ranches qualify for 90 percent of the male licenses for deer, elk, and pronghorn with the remaining 10 percent given to the public through a draw process. Under the new incentive-based system, ranches would start at 80 percent of the male licenses, but could qualify for 85 percent or 90 percent after three years by meeting high performance criteria such as enhancing hunter success, hunter satisfaction, exceptional habitat improvement, or exceptional contributions towards herd management. In addition to the increased allocation of male licenses going to the public, all female licenses will go to the public under the new system.

Other changes to the program that will benefit sportsmen include:

-To remain in the program, ranches must meet four mandatory requirements: improve habitat, maintain high public hunter satisfaction, maintain high hunter success rates, and assist the DOW with meeting big game herd objectives.

-In an effort to improve elk distribution during regular rifle seasons, ranches must schedule hunts during this period. The number of hunts occurring during regular rifle seasons must be equal to or greater than 25 percent of the private license allocation.

-The Commission also asked that public hunters who participate in the Ranching for Wildlife program be informed of any charges by ranches for additional services like guiding or game retrieval, and that the DOW report on the status of the program on an annual basis.

The new regulations and guidelines will go into effect in 2006. Ranches that currently participate in the program will be assessed by DOW staff as to which license distribution ratio they will qualify for.

For additional information on other improvements made to the program and to view the Ranching for Wildlife Review Committee’s Report, please visit: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Ranching/review.asp.