Cut in elk licenses continues as herds edge closer to objectives

Elk apps and licenses

The gap between elk licenses availability and demand continues to grow as Colorado Parks and Wildlife gets elk herds numbers closer to population objectives. Cow-elk licenses this year were reduced by 4,000. Story by Dave Buchanan, art courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

First, a correction to an earlier column: I had the dates wrong (by a month!) for the results of the big-game limited license draw.

Results will be posted June 4-8 on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website at I’m not sure if the site is case sensitive, but give it a try both ways. I’m sure CPW agents and officers were pleased to see me publish out the wrong dates.

As soon as the results are posted, there are bound to be some unhappy hunters, for several reasons. Primarily, license applications vastly outnumber the licenses available.

“We had 690,000 applicants and we had 250,00 limited licenses,” Andy Holland, Big Game Manager for Parks and Wildlife, said. “That’s total licenses, including deer, elk, pronghorn and moose, but you get the idea. Demand far outweighs supply.”

Speaking earlier this month during the Parks and Wildlife Commission’s May meeting in Grand Junction, Holland told the commission and audience that setting license recommendations “is one of the most important things our agency does.”

He noted that the quarter-million limited licenses available this year amount to 1,200 fewer than 2017 and while there are increases in deer, pronghorn and moose tags, that’s more than offset by a sharp decrease in elk licenses.

“So, on balance the increase won’t overcome the reductions in elk licenses,” Holland explained. There will be 5,600 fewer elk licenses issued this year compared to 2017.

License numbers are set through herd management plans based on established management areas across the state. These plans, which include biological and social population objectives, are “designed to meet those objectives” using public input, Holland said. “The most important place for public involvement is in the herd management plans,” he emphasized.


Colorado attracts thousands of deer hunters each year and this year likely will be no exception. “Last year, we had 186,00 applicants for deer licenses and we have seen steady growth in the deer applicant demands,” Holland said. “We’re one of, if not the, premier mule-deer hunting states in the west.”

Deer apps per year

Deer herds and license numbers are showing some recovery after the hard winter of 2007/2008 but license demand still far outruns supply.

There will be 94,900 mule-deer licenses offered this year, up 2,700 from 2017. That includes 52,00 buck licenses, up 1,600 over 2017. The increase in licenses reflects a steady upward trend after the severe winter of 2007/2008 seriously curtailed licenses in following years.

“West slope-wide you can see what one severe winter does to our licenses,” Holland said, a graph showing licenses, which peaked at around 125,000 in 2007, bottomed at around 80,000 in 2012 before beginning the gradual upward trend continuing this year. “We want hunters to have the opportunity to harvest those deer before we lose them to predators, disease or the next bad winter.”

He said the estimated statewide deer population is around 419,000.

“The population objective range is 455,000 to 492,000 so we’re still significantly below where we’d like to be on deer population size,” he noted.


Colorado each year sees about 200,000 applicants for the limited elk tags, Holland said. However, he tempered that by saying “we’re on a 16-year declining trend in elk license numbers.”

Elk herds topped out at around 305,000 in the early 2000s, a number most people agreed was too high, and since then the agency has made strides in bringing the herds down to desired population objectives.

“Now we are working off a smaller population size and more of our herds are at or near the objective desired,” Holland told the commission. “When you’re at or near your objective you have the ability to harvest fewer cow elk.”

Current elk population is estimated at 282,000, about the same as 2017. This year’s license recommendation calls for 127,600 total, which is 5,600 fewer than 2018 and most of these lost licenses (4,300) come from the northwest region.

With most herds now at or near population objectives, fewer cow licenses are being offered. This year, cow elk licenses statewide were cut by 4,000.


With an estimated record population of 85,600 animals, pronghorn are almost 20,000 animals over the desired objective.

“The pronghorn population statewide is increasing, the only one of the species I’m presenting today that is increasing,” Holland said. The largest herd is in the Great Divide area near Craig and numbers about 21,000 pronghorn.

“Fawn/doe ratios have been high the last few years, they are very in tune with moisture,” Holland said. “We’ll see what happens this year as its relates to moisture, particularly in southeast Colorado. If we don’t get moisture, this above-objective situation may be addressed biologically.”


Moose licenses are up this year, 452 compared to 415 in 2017.

“Last year we had 26,000 applications for the 415 license we had,” Holland said. “Moose and CPW are doing their best to accommodate the demands for those 26,000 people.”

Bull license total 190, up 37 from 2017, and cow license are up 18 to 262. There now is moose hunting in 62 game units, up from the 39 as recent as 2013. Current population estimate is 3,100 moose statewide.


A Christmas wish for the Bears Ears

122017 OUT column Moke Dugway

The Moki Dugway snakes 1,100 feet down the south face of Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah a few mile south of  the Bears Ears National Monument. Built in 1958 by a mining company to haul uranium ore to the mill in Mexican Hat, the road includes three miles of well-maintained unpaved road and is passable by passenger cars.

With Christmas close at hand, that “short list” of things to do no longer seems so short. Among all the buying and spending and gift wrapping (and calling the taxidermist to check on that elk shoulder mount), there still is that matter of “wishing upon a star.”

Those of us in western Colorado are blessed with stars aplenty to wish upon, although skiers and boarders and those who cater to such might be wishing for an overcast and white Christmas Eve.

Wishes. Elk hunters might be wishing for a lucky draw and hoping Santa drops off a few extra preference points. Anglers might be dreaming of a spring runoff strong and fast, finishing by the time the salmonflies are flying over the Gunnison River.

But most of us who live in fly-over country are wishing for this:

That those who represent us in the legislative halls, especially those sequestered in the concrete canyons of Washington, D.C., never forget what it is that makes this land so special.

And why this region we call home needs added protection.

122017 OUT Column Bears Ears

Geologic place names seldom get it as right as it with the Bears Ears, twin buttes of Wingate sandstone on the north edge of Cedar Mesa. They also lend their name to one of America’s newest national monuments, one that faces drastic changes at the hands of the Trump administration.

A canyon country (factual) Christmas tale: In the winter of 1879, leaving behind the rest of the Hole-In-The-Rock expedition, four brave men plunged into the complex slick-rock canyon country of southeast Utah, seeking a route to Montezuma Creek.

What initially was planned as an eight-day trek had become several times that when, on Christmas Day 1879, lost, out of food and surviving mostly on hope, they climbed an otherwise unremarkable point now known as Salvation Knoll on the north edge of Cedar Mesa.

From there, the scouts spotted the Blue (Abajo) Mountains, regaining their bearings and their hope.

The fascinating story of this Mormon expedition is well-documented and today travelers along Utah State Route 95 west of Blanding cross the scouts’ trail at mile marker 97. There, you can read historical markers and hike a short trail built by descendants of the Hole-In-The-Rock families to the top of Salvation Knoll where you are reminded that all is not lost, even when conditions seem dire.

It may not be a coincidence that Salvation Knoll is within a few miles of the Bears Ears, those curiously identical buttes of Wingate sandstone that for uncounted centuries have kept travelers on their right path.

We often share the sentiments of Norwood-based author Craig Childs, whose astutely contemplative writing on the interplay of nature and humans has secured him a large and faithful audience throughout western Colorado and elsewhere.

In a recent Facebook post, Childs penned an open letter to Rep. Scott Tipton, representing Colorado’s Congressional Third District, imploring Tipton “to remember home. Think about what it means to stand on dusty ground, to feel what is over every horizon.”

Much of what Childs was speaking touched on the recent decision by Pres. Donald Trump to reduce drastically the size of Bears Ears and Escalante-Grand Staircase national monuments.

In the case of the Bears Ears, the acreage is to be slashed by 85 percent to just more than 200,000 acres while carving out of protected status hundreds if not thousands of fragile archeological sites representing the cultural heritage of southeastern Utah.

The long view

A view across Cedar Mesa, where in the winter of 1879-1880 an expedition from the Church of Latter Day Saints carved a path from Escalante to Mexican Hat. It’s been reported that during the arduous six-month journey, no one died and two babies were born.

Reflecting on Childs’ words, it’s clear the deep-seated sentiments he invokes are not limited solely to the dismantling of these mostly wild places where ancient peoples once roamed and where their descendants today live and worship. He also expresses concern for the entire “wealth of public and protected lands” across the West that safeguard natural and cultural resources for tomorrow’s generations.

As Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, recently said, “the changes to the two Utah monuments would negatively impact key fish and wildlife habitat, reduce outdoor opportunities important to sportsmen and critical to local economies, and undermine a bedrock conservation law, the Antiquities Act, that has enabled the long-term protection of millions of acres.”

Among those protected resources are landcapes unparalleled in North America, from the serpentine Moki Dugway, snaking off the precipitous face of Cedar Mesa a few miles north of Mexican Hat, Utah, to the contrast of desert slot canyons and alpine meadows a few miles apart.

This land of elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, black bear, mountain lions and other wildlife also is home to hikers, climbers, river-runners, birders, bikers and star-gazers.

And for all that, this year’s Christmas wishes must carry a special wish for those who make the ultimate decisions of how this and all public land is managed.

So we again turn to Craig Childs, who noted that Tipton and his colleagues must find Washington D.C. “consuming at times, (making it) easy to forget where you came from and what deeply, viscerally matters to the people of the West.

“I admire anyone who can go into the fray like you and do the hard work, but don’t get lost out there,” Childs cautions.

“As you lean toward bills that would limit our ability to protect lands through the Antiquities Act or otherwise, I ask you to remember home. … Remember where you came from, and all of us out here on this bluebird morning, glad for what we have.”

(Ed. note: The comments from Craig Childs were used with his permission. His most-recently published book, Flying Home, is now available.)



Four named to state wildlife commission; funding tops the list

032716 OUT buck deep snow sized

Wildlife management has many facets and none of it is free. Hunting and fishing licenses still pay two-thirds of the bills for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

Gov. John Hickenlooper has added four new members, three from the Western Slope, to the Colorado Wildlife Commission.

Among the newest members of the 11-person panel are former Grand Junction mayor Jim Spehar; Carrie Besnette Hauser, president and CEO of Colorado Community College in Glenwood Springs; Marie E. Haskett, owner of JML Outfitters near Meeker, the 2016 COA Outfitter of the Year; and Xcel Energy vice-president Marvin Edward McDaniel of Sedalia. Read the entire news release here.

The biggest challenge facing the wildlife commission is what the agency terms “the uncertain outlook for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation in the face of severe funding challenges.”

It’s not just fewer fish stocked in lakes and streams or the possible loss of access to walk-in hunting and fishing areas or maybe curtailing or closing state parks. It’s what Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke described as the potential loss of  “a critical part of Colorado’s heritage.”

This summer, CPW leadership has been hosting a series of meeting statewide to discuss funding options after a proposal to increase the cost of hunting and fishing license and raise park fees was killed last May in the Senate Finance Committee.

It’s no secret Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which has not had a fee increase in 12 years, is operating on a deficit and since 2009 has lost 50 positions and cut $40 million from its operating budget.

“Operating with a strained budget is not just a problem for the agency, it’s a problem for everyone in this state, whether you hunt, hike, fish, camp or boat, or depend on the revenue these activities generate for businesses and the state’s economy,” Katie Lanter,  Policy and Planning Supervisor for Parks and Wildlife, said in a CPW statement. “The public will need to be heavily involved and help decide how the management of some of Colorado’s most important natural resources will be funded so they will be available for future generations.”

The agency gets no general-fund tax dollars. Funding comes mostly from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and a smaller portion a share of the lottery and restricted federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment.

Lanter said that funding “is only one natural resource management challenge” facing the CPW. There also is the prospect that Colorado’s population may grow by 25 million people in the next 25 years, adding to the pressure already felt by wildlife and state recreation areas. And of that population growth, it’s expected that by 2040 three times as many Coloradans will be 65 or over and potentially not buying fishing or hunting licenses.

“The public will have to decide what’s important to them in terms of wildlife and parks management – more cuts and less opportunity, or find a way to increase operating revenue so that we can manage at the level expected by Coloradans.” said Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke. “I can say that this agency has had to undergo severe belt-tightening and there is little room for more without severely crimping it’s mission.

“We are at a crossroads and we need to find an effective solution quickly, or risk losing a critical part of Colorado’s heritage,” Romatzke said.



CPW gets its poacher: Californian pinned with wildlife crimes

Here is something we can’t hear often enough: Colorado Parks and Wildlife stuck a California poacher with a pile of wildlife violations and now he faces not only big-time fines but also the potential loss of his hunting and fishing privileges.

Read the press release here.

According to CPW, Kyle Odle, 29, of Menifee, Calif., not only is an egregious repeat offender (many of the charges against him include the words “multiple counts”) but a Marine veteran who falsified his status as a vet to assist in committing wildlife crimes.

After reading the litany of charges against this clown, it’s hard to figure out if there is any  wildlife interest he didn’t offend. Properly licensed hunters, both resident and nonresident? Check. Vets? Check. Landowners? Check. Guides and outfits? Check. Biologists and mule deer conservation groups trying to restore Colorado’s mule deer? Check. License agents? Check. And so on.

Odle was sentenced to pay around $11,000 in fines (plus a $5,500 reimbursement to hunters he cheated by pretending to be a legal guide) and, pending a hearing, may lose his hunting and fishing privileges for life in this and 42 other states.

That he escaped jail time for potential felony charges is a pity since he deserves some time alone. Not that he would likely spend it thinking of where he went wrong, but sticking a felony charge (and its restrictions on owning firearms) on his record would insure he wouldn’t be able to hunt again.

The finding of the 14th Judicial District Court in Moffat County comes as good news because getting convictions on wildlife crimes has never been easy. Especially so in metropolitan areas where courts have backed-up dockets filled with horrific civil cases needing adjudication.

However, rural judges and attorneys have long had a better understanding of what wildlife means to the people of the state and have pursued convictions citing the crimes. I don’t know any over-worked wildlife officer eager to spend time testifying in court when that could be spent teaching the positive aspects of wildlife management, but here it was time well spent.