Lawmakers give initial OK to raise hunting and fishing prices

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 7:18 PM
Wildlife officer Stepahnie Schuler checks hunters’ licenses during the 2005 hunting season in Southwest Colorado. The state Legislature is considering raising fees and fines in coming years.

DENVER – The cost of hunting and fishing in Colorado may increase by as much as 50 percent in coming years.

House Bill 1321, which would raise the cap across the board for hunting and fishing licenses and incrementally increase the price over the next few years, was passed Monday by the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee on a 8-5 vote.

These fee increases would be for licenses purchased by Colorado residents and not for out-of-state visitors, who already pay a substantially higher rate.

For annual fishing licenses, the cap would increase from $25 to $37.50, while the cap for small game permits would be $30, deer $45 and elk $67.50.

In addition to raising license fees, the bill would implement a number of other measures to raise funds for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, including:

Raise fines for illegal activity to twice the cost of the license fee. For example, if a person is caught fishing without a license ($37.50 under the new proposal), he or she could be fined $75.Institute a fee for annual fishing licenses for seniors who currently receive it for free.Increase entrance fees for state parks.Establish a fee on water vehicles to fund the Aquatic Nuisance Species program that looks to remove non-native species from Colorado’s waterways. This would be the first licensing fee increase for state residents since 2005. The funding from it would go to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which does not receive tax revenue and is dependent on user fees, said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for CPW in Durango.

The lack of a fee increase has resulted in an estimated 22 percent drop in buying power of the organization as its revenue has failed to keep up with the price of inflation across the state, Lewandowski said. “I don’t think there is a business in the state that can say they haven’t raised prices since 2005.”

While the bill allows for the increase in the maximum price, it doesn’t actually raise the price but rather leaves it to the discretion of CPW, said Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and sponsor of HB 1321.

The additional funding a fee increase would generate would be used to catch up on maintenance of the state’s public lands, particularly the more than 100 dams that need work, renovation of fish hatcheries and recreational improvements, Arndt said.

In Durango, additional funding could go toward deferred maintenance on the fish hatchery or renovating the CPW office, but on the state level, it would probably be focused on state parks, which, on average, see more than 13 million visitors a year, Lewandowski said.

There is a need for infrastructure upgrades to meet expectations of those who visit, he said. This infrastructure includes roads, electricity hook-ups for RVs, boat docks and clean water and sewage services.

“Those things don’t just appear without any funding,” Lewandowski said.

While no one testified in outright opposition to HB 1321, there were suggestions on how to improve the measure, including rewriting a limitation on new funding, which excluded it from being used to purchase new lands. This portion was tweaked to be more permissive of using funding to acquire land.

There also were concerns expressed by members of the committee that the bill places an undue burden on sportsmen to fund the parks and wildlife division and did not look for other sources of revenue, such as potentially placing a tax on other users such as mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers.

During testimony, multiple water organizations testified in support of the measure for the funding it would generate for protecting Colorado’s waterways from nuisance species such as the Zebra and Quagga mussels.

Also among those who supported the measure was a group of youth anglers who said Colorado’s public lands should be protected but want the bill to expand the classifications for youth fishers, who receive free licenses, from 16 to 18 years of age.

Jordan Evans, a junior at Coronado High School in Colorado Springs, said he has been grateful for the opportunity free fishing has given him to have a healthy, productive outlet as a young man.

“It has touched my life, and I think it should be available to everybody,” Evans said.

An amendment meeting the young fishermen’s request was adopted by the committee.

The bill next heads to the House Finance Committee for consideration.