The Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado River is accessed by a boat ramp in Loma, which is part of a State Wildlife Area. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado Wildlife Commission in late April approved new licensing rules for visitors to the 350-plus State Wildlife Areas and nearly 240 State Trust Lands.

 “We are seeing a lot of unintended use of these properties and these lands were acquired for specific wildlife purposes using hunting and fishing dollars,” said Travis Duncan, a public information officer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

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So anyone 18 or older visiting the roughly 600 properties across Colorado will need to have a hunting and fishing license, beginning July 1. A fishing license costs $35 for residents and $97 for non-residents, and all licenses, except one-day fishing and hunting permits, require a $10 habitat stamp. The state parks pass is not valid for access to these properties.

“We want folks to hunt and fish on these properties,” Duncan said. 

Information officers like Duncan have been answering a lot of calls from residents as officers on the ground begin warning visitors of the new licensing regulations. It’s been a “good educational opportunity,” Duncan said of his colleagues’ efforts to share the North American funding model for wildlife conservation that relies heavily on fees collected from selling hunting and fishing licenses. 

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which does not receive taxpayer dollars, collects 10% of the revenue generated by the Colorado Lottery — roughly $3.4 billion over the last 36 years — but that goes toward the state’s 41 parks. Wildlife areas and trust lands that are managed for protecting animals and their habitat are supported by angler and hunter license fees.  

In recent years, wildlife officials have reported increases in people hiking, biking, paddleboarding, camping and driving off-road vehicles in areas managed for wildlife. In some places, officials have found people setting up semi-permanent living situations. Many visitors assume that recreation in those areas is free, Duncan said.

“But if you are out recreating, it has some kind of impact and it has some kind of cost,” he said. 

Fines for violating the licensing rules start at $139.50.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has spent the last three years studying its funding model and budgets as the agency projects shortfalls of $30 million a year for wildlife and $11 million a year for parks by 2025. The 2018 Future Generations Act allowed CPW to raise the cost of park entrance and license fees to help grow the number of acres open for public access. In 2019, the parks and wildlife commission approved a multi-year plan to double the size of its Public Access Program, with a goal to reach nearly 1 million acres by 2021. Earlier this year the state finalized its purchase of the state’s newest park, Fishers Peak, near Trinidad.

Carol Duecker lives in Grand Junction and likes to raft the Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado River, using the boat put-in in Loma and taking out in Utah. It’s one of the more popular stretches of the Colorado River, with remote sections of pristine canyon and easy paddling through about 25 miles of Bureau of Land Management land. And the put-in at Loma is a State Wildlife Area, which means every adult paddler using the boat ramp will need a fishing or hunting license. 

“That seems like a large impact for an area that is used constantly by boaters,” she said. “Does flaring past a State Wildlife Area trigger the need for that fee? I think boaters like to stay legal of course and want to do whatever they need to do … but, what is it, $45, now? That seems onerous, especially for someone heading out for a quick float or a weekend on BLM land.”

Duncan said the rule now is all access to all state wildlife and trust lands requires a license. But wildlife officials are looking at possible exceptions, even though none have been identified.

“Our message is pretty simple: We want people to be on these properties for their intended use,” he said. 

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, two teenage girls and a dog named Gravy. He writes The Outsider, a weekly newsletter covering the outdoors industry from the inside out. Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors,...