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Colorado Parks and Wildlife opens up nearly 200,000 acres for hunting, fishing access on school trust lands

Colorado now can use nearly 1 million more acres of the school lands for hunting, fishing and floating after three years of expanding access, though some want lower fees for hikers.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife last fall installed this sign at the take-out for the popular Dowd Chute whitewater run on the Eagle River. The addition of the area to the agency's growing Public Access Program for hunters and anglers suddenly prohibited access for anything but hunting and fishing. (Sean Glackin, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado Parks & Wildlife will open up nearly 200,000 more state acres to hunting and fishing beginning this fall, completing a doubling of public access to state school trust lands over three years to just under 1 million acres. 

The Public Access Program, launched by Gov. Jared Polis in 2019, expanded seasonal opportunities for wildlife-related use on previously off-limits State Trust Lands, which were set aside when Colorado became a state in 1876 to provide ongoing funds for public schools. The State Land Board leases out millions of acres for uses ranging from oil and gas drilling to private hunting, and in recent years has used the proceeds for a school-building fund. 

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The Parks & Wildlife Commission voted Wednesday to add 199,000 acres of public access for fall 2021, finishing out Polis’ goal of 973,000 new public access acres. The land board controls about 2.8 million acres overall, in a patchwork of tiny plots ranging from just a few acres to properties spanning thousands of acres.  

“Colorado is known for our incredible natural beauty, and I ran for governor with a promise to expand access and enjoyment of our treasured state and federal land, and now we are delivering on that promise in a million ways,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement. 

CPW said locations of the new 199,000 acres of access will come out in the 2021 Colorado Recreational Lands Brochure later this year. 

“The expansion of the Public Access Program passed by CPW and the State Land Board doubles the program in only three years, from less than 500,000 acres to nearly 1 million acres,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, in the statement. 

The parks commission has so far held that people accessing state trust lands, including the new open access acres, must have a hunting or fishing license. Those decisions have been challenged by animal protection groups and other advocates, who say hikers, bird watchers and other “non-consumptive” users shouldn’t have to pay the same high fees. 

Resident hunting licenses start at about $40, depending on the game, and fishing licenses are $35 for residents and $97 for non-residents. In fending off a lawsuit by an animal rights group, the state has said the trust lands are not set up for widespread hiker access, and need the license fees from users in order to protect wildlife and preserve habitats.


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