Colorado Parks and Wildlife limited budget begs some burning questions | VailDaily.com

Colorado Parks and Wildlife limited budget begs some burning questions

Matthew Bennett
Post Independent

As the Lake Christine Fire continues to burn, the question of whether or not Colorado Parks and Wildlife can safely oversee gun ranges, like the one in Basalt, also still burns in the minds of some.

"I can't speak for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the decisions that they've made," state Sen. Kerry Donovan, whose district includes Basalt and El Jebel, told the Post Independent in a previous interview.

"Overall, I trust Colorado Parks and Wildlife," she said. "They do an incredible job managing an immense amount of land and property and assets to the state.

"They've also found themselves with the cuts … that the administration has made having to cover more land and have additional responsibilities because we don't have the support we used to on the federal level," Donovan said.

On Aug. 4, 2012, a fire was started at the same gun range, overseen by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, where the Lake Christine Fire blew up on July 3. The latest fire was allegedly started by two persons shooting illegal tracer rounds. No rangers were at the facility at the time.

As is the case this year, stringent fire restrictions also were implemented in 2012 in Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties due to similar drought conditions and high fire danger.

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As reported by The Aspen Times and the Post Independent in 2012, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Eight Manager Perry Will said, "Initially suspected exploding targets or other prohibited devices were used, but discussions with witnesses and evidence at the origin ruled out the exploding targets or tracers."

The ultimate cause of the fire at the Basalt gun range in 2012, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife statewide spokesperson Lauren Truitt, was a discarded cigarette butt.

According to the 2012 article, "The shooting range was closed during the firefighting effort and will remain closed while Colorado Parks and Wildlife assesses whether to reopen it in the dry conditions."

The Lake Christine gun range, located not far from historic downtown Basalt and within footsteps from homes, did ultimately reopen that year. This year, despite Stage 2 fire restrictions, the facility stayed open.

Those restrictions, among other prohibitions, bans smoking cigarettes outside. Use of tracer rounds is always prohibited at the range.

Truitt clarified with the Post Independent that the Basalt gun range does not see direct funding from taxpayer dollars.

"Colorado Parks and Wildlife is what's considered an enterprise agency," Truitt said. "So we operate in very much the same fashion as a general business. Most of our funding comes from user funding.

"On the parks side of our budget, that's from … boating permits, state park passes, camping reservation fees, day use fees," she said. "On our wildlife side of our budget the primary funding sources are going to be … hunting and fishing licenses."

Parks and Wildlife also receives some funding from the Great Outdoors Colorado fund. There's also support from the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson funds, "which is an excise tax on hunting and shooting equipment, as well as fishing equipment and boating equipment," Truitt explained.

The Basalt gun range pulls funds strictly from the wildlife side of the agencies' budget, according to Mike Porras, CPW Northwest Region public information officer.

"There were no CPW employees at the range when the fire started," he said. "None of our ranges are staffed full time; however, our officers and technicians patrol and maintain the ranges on a regular basis."

Porras stated that, "All CPW ranges are funded by the agency, but again using wildlife funds generated by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses within the state, and federal aid … generated by excise taxes on the sale of sporting goods such as rifles, bows, arrows, etc., and distributed to the states. These are not considered general fund taxes."

Truitt did add that there was staff on the Lake Christine property at the time the fire started, "but they were not at the gun range."

The day after the Lake Christine Fire started, CPW Northwest Regional Manager J.T. Romatzke said in a statement, "With these extreme drought conditions, we are closing our ranges out of an abundance of caution."