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In 2009, fewer hunters than usual visit Garfield County

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The lingering effects of the recession were apparent for Garfield County businesses directly tied to one of the state’s biggest tourism industries – hunting.

“This hunting season was morbidly dead,” said Edward Wilks, owner of the Tradesman, a firearm and sporting goods store in Rifle.

The fall big-game hunting seasons, that run from October through November, draw thousands of hunters from other parts of Colorado, as well as other parts of the nation, to Garfield County. However this past season was one of the slowest Wilks remembers. He considered the poor hunting season just another casualty of the recession.

“That is the economy,” Wilks said.

According to Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton, the recession has not had a huge effect on the state overall. Hampton said that overall hunting applications were down only 2 percent in 2009 from 2008. However, approximately 470,000 people still applied for licenses in 2009. Harvest statistics won’t be available until March or April, according to Hampton. Those numbers will provide actual numbers and give a better snapshot of the actual impacts.

“We did see a reduction in the number of hunters, but it was a relatively small reduction,” Hampton said.

While the declines were not huge, Hampton said that impacts were apparent in certain areas more than others. He said the DOW was aware of declining numbers in game management units (GMUs) that include the Bookcliffs and the Piceance Basin, north of Rifle.

Over the past several years, energy development in the GMUs north of and surrounding Rifle has aggressively expanded. According to Hampton, that is one of the reasons hunters have said that they are seeking other, less developed, areas to hunt.

“A lot of nonresidents who come to Colorado for the fall hunt are not only looking for the harvest,” Hampton said. “It’s more about the experience. It’s got to be a complete package.”

Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Annick Pruett said that it was her opinion that energy development had less to do with the slower season than the overall effects of the recession.

“The energy development has slowed down,” she said. “We saw a lot of regulars and town seemed busy, but as far as specifically where they were going, I don’t know.”

However, Pruett, too, said that the hunting season was quieter than in previous years. She said that the Hunters Information Center in Rifle was slower as well.

“We were not that busy at the information center, but a lot of the information is now online,” she said.

Kevin Rider, co-owner of Timberline Sporting Goods just down the road from Wilks’ shop, said that while he noticed fewer out-of-state hunters, the local hunting population remained active.

“We saw a definite drop in hunters due to the recession,” Rider said. “But local hunters were about the same from the previous year.”

Rider said he’s heard from hunters that high nonresident tag prices have kept out-of-state hunters from coming to Colorado. However, Hampton doubted that argument held much weight.

“Of course no one is going to say that we are charging just the right amount for hunting licenses,” Hampton said. “We are always going to hear that it’s too expensive.”

In Colorado a nonresident elk tag cost $546 in 2009. In comparison, the same tag in Wyoming was $591, $547 in New Mexico, $593 in Montana, $514 in Idaho, and $453 in Utah.

However, Hampton said that Colorado is the only state that offers over-the-counter tags for combined elk and deer second and third seasons.

The price of the tags are tied by legislation to the state’s inflation rate, according to Hampton. So the rise in price is caused by a rise in the inflation rate. He expected the price of the tag to actually decrease this year because the inflation rate is expected to drop as well. However, if that will be enough to lure hunters back to the Rifle area will remain to be seen.

Statewide, hunting and fishing industries combined bring in more than $1.5 billion annually. A large part of the revenues are generated by the sale of game licenses. According to the DOW, Garfield County sees more than $30 million annually in direct expenditures and close to $53 million through indirect expenditures, from hunters and anglers.

jgardner@postindependent.com


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