Wildlife Commission Approves Elk Licenses for 2004

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The Colorado Wildlife Commission approved more than 147,000 antlerless and either-sex elk licenses for the 2004 big-game season—the most in state history—during a regular meeting in Grand Junction. The move reflects an elk herd that exceeds population objectives in some areas of the state.

The Commission also approved nearly 35,000 antlerless and either-sex deer licenses and nearly 69,000 antlered deer licenses for the 2004 season, a 10 percent increase over 2003.

Despite warm, dry weather last fall, hunters killed 57,330 elk in 2003, more than most wildlife managers expected, said John Ellenberger, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) big-game manager.

“The 2003 harvest helped managers make progress in managing the size of the state’s elk herd,” Ellenberger said. “Although some herd units continue to exceed their long-term objectives, our agency is committed to reducing elk populations where needed.”

Ellenberger said a variety of innovative hunting opportunities and seasons will be made available to manage elk, particularly in portions of northwest Colorado, where the state’s largest herds are found. The approaches include an unlimited number of antlerless elk licenses during the fourth season in game management units (GMUs) 3, 301, 4, 441 and 5 and unlimited antlerless elk licenses in all four rifle seasons in units 25 and 26.

Colorado’s deer herds—reduced in the early 1990s due to brutal winters and poor habitat conditions in some areas—continue to improve.

“An increased number of herd units are at or above their long-term populations and sex-ratio objectives resulting in more antlered and antlerless licenses available for hunters in select areas of the state, including Craig, Meeker and Middle Park,” Ellenberger said.

Drought continues to impact the state’s pronghorn antelope population, however, resulting in a reduction in rifle licenses from nearly 8,300 in 2003 to more than 7,800 for the coming hunting season.

The number of limited rifle bear licenses for the 2004 season will drop slightly to 2,874, while moose licenses will increase slightly from 115 in 2003 to 132 in 2004.

The Commission also approved a series of policies that will serve as guidelines for development of regulations for a new big-game season structure that will be approved this coming October. The season structure will formally establish season dates, method of take, preference points and other key regulations for the 2005-2009 seasons for deer, elk, moose, pronghorn and black bear in Colorado.

More than three dozen people testified on specific aspects of the season structure policy during the Commission meeting, reflecting the importance of the policy structure to big-game hunting in the state. After a lengthy discussion that continued until the early evening last Thursday, the Commission approved policies on a variety of hunting issues. They include:

--Disease management policy, which would cover chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk, will be considered in the development of biological parameters and management strategies for data analysis units (DAUs) around Colorado.

--General guidelines the DOW already uses to set seasons—including a limited number of licenses in early and late seasons and primary rifle seasons in October and November—will remain in place.

--Up to 30 percent of elk herds in the state will be managed through “limited opportunity” hunts, compared to 17 percent under the existing season structure policy. Hunters must apply for these licenses in early April. The number of available licenses changes annually.

--Up to 60 percent of limited licenses will be allocated to resident hunters unless the number of resident applicants is below 60 percent. Nonresidents can receive up to 40 percent.

--The Commission will ask the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and federal land management agencies to adopt regulations that would reduce the impacts that off-road vehicles have on wildlife populations and hunting opportunities. In addition, the DOW may seek legislation of its own to allow the Wildlife Commission to further regulate the use of off-road vehicles as hunting aids. Misuse of off-road vehicles is one of the most common complaints the DOW receives each fall from hunters.

The Commission also approved a regulation that limits the scientific collection of wildlife for “bona fide research” purposes. A scientific collecting license will be required to collect wildlife for such research.