David Lien: Hunters, anglers seek access to state lands

David Lien/For Steamboat Today

Currently, in Colorado, only about 20 percent of state lands are open to public use (access paid entirely by sportsmen through hunting license and gun sales), while the other 80 percent are leased out to the highest bidder.

Whereas our federal public lands are managed for multiple uses, state lands are managed for the highest yielding use/income. Article 9 of the Colorado Constitution mandates that state lands be managed to generate revenue. Yet, the constitution mentions nothing about public access.

Surveys indicate that lack of public access is the top reason hunters cite for abandoning sporting traditions. Consequently, the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is looking to open more state trust lands to public access. BHA is working to craft a bipartisan bill that will allow hunters and anglers to access state trust lands, free of charge, for at least part of the year.

“Any access would be an improvement,” says BHA state policy manager Tim Brass.

Brass notes that in other Western states trust lands are open to the public at no charge. In fact, the idea for the legislation came from BHA members from Wyoming who visited Colorado to hunt.

“They were used to having state land wide open in Wyoming, as is the case in just about every other Western state,” Brass said, adding that the sportsmen were caught off guard by restrictions in Colorado.

Other states, like Idaho and Wyoming, also open state trust lands to the public at no charge. Brass believes a solution can be found that satisfies existing leaseholders, and increasing access is a plus for Colorado’s economy.

Hunting and angling in Colorado is a $2.8 billion economic driver (in contrast, state trust lands brought in

$186 million during 2014), according to a February 2014 report by Southwick Associates, commissioned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Hunting and fishing is the second-largest tourism industry in Colorado, trailing only skiing.

During the fall, “You go into a restaurant or cafe in these small mountain towns and 80 percent of the customers are wearing camouflage or blaze orange hats, depending on the season,” said Josh Soholt, owner of Gannett Ridge Hunting Equipment in Fort Collins. “Hunting is a huge economic boost.”

Outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, is responsible for $646 billion in direct expenditures for the U.S. economy every year. When politicians ignore conservation and recreation, they impact one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy—as well as a major part of our country’s unique national identity.

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David Lien is a former Air Force officer and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience II: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”

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