Despite appearances, the Super Bowl isn't the only big game many Coloradans are concerned about this week. Along with the Broncos, they're tuned into the elk, deer, pronghorn, moose, black bear and mountain lions roaming the state.
The kickoff has already occurred for the process of planning Colorado's big game hunting season structures for the next five years, but team members are still being solicited from the sportsmen's community at large. Public input on the structure of the big game hunting seasons for 2015 through 2019 is encouraged and actively sought through a series of statewide meetings, surveys and online input through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
"We want to hear from sportsmen and other constituents about how the current hunting season structure is working for them and how it can be improved," CPW director Bob Broscheid said.
As any participant will tell you, big game hunting is fluid. Herd animals are mobile, populations fluctuate and any number of variables ranging from weather to predators to hunting pressure can impact the opportunities and quality of a hunting experience.
With that in mind, a little consistency can go a long way for sportsmen. The five-year planning structure ultimately approved by the CPW Commission is intended to provide that consistency with the ultimate objective of keeping game populations in balance with the habitat.
"The five-year season structure is designed to provide sportsmen, hunting-related businesses, landowners and communities an opportunity to plan ahead for the upcoming seasons," said Craig McLaughlin, terrestrial section manager for CPW. "The public input process gives stakeholders the chance to comment on some of the major hunting issues."
Included among those issues are components such as the number of seasons for each species, the overlap among different seasons, breaks between seasons and the beginning and ending dates of hunting seasons. The public is also invited to provide suggestions to CPW staff and the Commission for changes to the "preference point" system, which is used to award licenses for Colorado's premium hunting opportunities.
As in the past, the Commission will continue to consider designation of units for totally limited elk hunting in a process separate from but concurrent with the Big Game Season Structure. Like the last two five-year cycles, designation will rely on a formal public nomination process in which citizens submit proposals and document the support for limiting any specific unit.
Feedback from regional offices across the state suggests that hot topics include youth hunting opportunities, pronghorn season timing (including muzzleloader season), bear hunting opportunity, mountain lion season adjustments and in-depth examinations of elk, deer and moose seasons.
Preference points and hunting opportunity are the issues most likely to dominate discussion, however.
"It's an opportunity to address any concerns that various hunters may have and an opportunity to adapt to conditions and population growth in various sectors of the hunting community," said Gaspar Perricone, a sportsmen's representative appointed to the Parks and Wildlife Commission. "The preference point system is an undeniable part of the discussion, although to what extent it will be brought to our attention is hard to predict. We have an incredible resource and, to the extent possible, we try to provide for everyone to enjoy it. But that can be a tough thing to negotiate."
The ongoing demand for premium hunting opportunities and the frustrations over the best way to equitably manage them is an issue that's unlikely to find permanent resolution in this or any five-year season structure plan. But there is opportunity for incremental improvement, whether the plan evolves from CPW staff, professional outfitters or individual hunters.
Past changes to the preference point system have included preference point banking (implemented only for 2006) and the creation of a hybrid draw system for deer, elk, pronghorn and bear in 2010.
"The sportsmen's community often provides ideas worth taking a serious look at," Perricone said.
Scott Willoughby: email@example.com or twitter.com/willoughbydp
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