Colorado Expands Hunting and Fishing Opportunities on State Lands

Published August 22, 2019

Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife Commission is opening 100,000 additional acres of state trust lands to hunters and anglers, beginning this fall.

The move is the first step in a multiyear plan to more than double the amount of state trust lands open to outdoor sportsmen and -women, to a total of about one million acres.

Colorado has approximately three million acres of state public trust lands, of which less than one-fifth is currently open to the public for recreation.

Reversing the Trend

The number of licensed hunters and anglers in the state has been decreasing, with lack of access to areas to hunt and fish being one of the main reasons people give for abandoning these sports, the report states.

In part to reverse that trend, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioners voted unanimously in mid-July to add 100,000 acres to the 480,000 acres currently open to hunting and fishing in the state.

A 2018 state report showed hunting and fishing contribute about $5 billion per year to the Colorado economy, and those funds are especially critical in rural areas.

Nationally, outdoor recreation supports millions of jobs and generates about $887 billion in spending annually, the Outdoor Industry Association reports.

Hunters, Anglers Fund Conservation

Opening lands to hunters and anglers helps preserve the environment, says Anthony Fabian, president of the Colorado State Shooting Association.

“No one, single group in Colorado has contributed more to conservation of wildlife and habitat than its sportsmen and sportswomen,” Fabian said. “Unrestricted public access to public open space, and the expansion thereof, for fishing and hunting is vital to the enjoyment of our outdoor sports here in Colorado.”

Sportsmen and -women are the primary funders of conservation efforts, says David Lien, co-chairman of Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

“Hunting license fees pay for the majority of wildlife conservation programs in the United States, including those protecting non-hunted animals,” Lien said.

The taxes paid on purchases of hunting and fishing equipment and licenses and state fees fund most of Colorado’s habitat protection and wildlife conservation efforts, a report by the Outdoor Industry Association states.

Good for People, Wildlife

The public should never have been denied access to these lands, says Amy Oliver Cooke, executive vice president of the Independence Institute and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“It’s unconscionable the state government has denied Coloradans access to their own land,” said Cooke. “This is a long-overdue first step, yet still more needs to be done. More acreage needs to be made available, which will open up additional recreational and economic opportunities.

“I encourage the [Gov. Jared] Polis administration to move quickly in making Colorado’s public lands truly public,” Cooke said.

Stingy About Access

Colorado’s public lands shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of the wealthy but instead be available to everyone who contributes to their purchase and upkeep, says Lien.

“The state of Colorado currently provides public hunting and fishing access on a mere 16 percent of its state trust lands, or approximately 500,000 of three million acres, representing the lowest level of public access offered on state lands in any state in the West,” Lien said. “Of the other 84 percent, much of the best hunting and fishing is leased to the highest bidder for exclusive recreational access, locking out most sportsmen and sportswomen.

“As hunting and fishing access is increasingly controlled by the wealthy and well-connected, public access only becomes more important, since lack of public access is the No. 1 reason hunters cite for giving up their sporting traditions,” Lien said.

Mutual Benefits

Lien says increasing the numbers of hunters and anglers is the best way to ensure healthy wildlife populations, and that requires expanding the public’s access to Colorado’s state lands.

“Expanding the public access to Colorado’s state lands is a great way to support new hunters, grow our rural economies, help fund conservation, and ensure all Colorado hunters and anglers have a place to hunt and fish,” Lien said. “For years the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has been a leading voice in advocating for improved access to state trust lands in Colorado.

“Thanks in part to our efforts, we’ll have access to an additional 500,000 acres in the coming years, with 100,000 acres this year alone,” Lien said. “This is a win-win for hunters, for state trust beneficiaries—schoolchildren in Colorado—for rural economies where increased visitation will help support local businesses, and for wildlife and wildlands.”

Increasing Outdoor Access

Opening additional state trust lands to hunting, fishing, and other types of outdoor recreation is part of Colorado’s ongoing efforts to encourage residents to experience and enjoy the outdoors, which it hopes will lead to expanded public support for the state’s conservation efforts, said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, in a press statement.

“I congratulate the Parks and Wildlife Commission and the State Land Board for expanding access to Colorado state lands,” Gibbs said. “The expansion of the Public Access Program passed by CPW today and the State Land Board earlier this month will grow the program by more than 20 percent to 585,000 acres over the next year.

“Colorado is a growing state with increased demand for recreation, hunting, and angling throughout Colorado,” Gibbs said. “In the coming years, Gov. Polis and the Department of Natural Resources will continue to seek additional access opportunities to encourage Coloradans to experience, explore, and enjoy the outdoors.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.