WESTERN SLOPE: Landowner preference program changing

By Bill Tiedje

Colorado landowners' eligibility for big game hunting tags and use of those tags will change this summer as Colorado Parks and Wildlife implements new regulations for its landowner preference program.
To receive a landowner hunting tag voucher under the new regulations, landowners must provide habitat, support year-round or substantial populations, or provide proof of game damage for the particular game animal for which they are applying to hunt.
Sale of landowner vouchers, which can be exchanged for hunting tags, is also expressly prohibited in the new regulations, and transfers of these vouchers can only take place directly from landowners or land managers to hunters.
In western Colorado, the percentage of landowner tags that are distributed will also change.

Under the existing program, landowner tags comprise roughly 15 percent of hunting tags per species distributed in a particular game management unit (GMU) and can be used anywhere in the GMU.
Under the new regulations, landowners enrolled in the program will be eligible for 10 percent of the total tags per GMU for a given species, to be used anywhere in the unit, as well as an additional 10 percent of tags to be used only on private land.
The new preference program changes will take effect in July 2014 and will govern the distribution and oversight of vouchers beginning in 2015.
District wildlife managers will be able to verify property eligibility through a tracking system, and an online process is being developed to ease landowner registrations and speed approvals.
A stakeholder committee that included landowners, sportsmen and outfitters recommended the new preference program regulations after undertaking a two year statewide input process.
These recommendations were incorporated into state law last May as Senate Bill 13-118.
"(The committee) wanted to ensure landowners who were getting the benefit were those who were providing the habitat," said Randy Hampton, CPW public information officer.
The landowner preference program was originally implemented by the Colorado General Assembly in 2002 in recognition of private landowners, especially those who own agricultural lands, who provide habitat and forage during winter months for large herds of deer, elk and pronghorn.
In the stakeholder input process, sportsmen expressed concern that the program had the potential to privatize or commercialize hunting in the state, Hampton explained.
Hampton added the program was not designed to be a revenue exchange but a program that provides a benefit.
"The preference program provides tangible benefits to landowners and can increase the tolerance that private landowners have for big game animals," said Steve Znamenacek, a district wildlife manager who oversees implementation of the program changes for CPW. "With landowners realizing a benefit from the big game herds on their property, they are more willing to improve habitat as well."