Aaron Berscheid is a district wildlife officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Aaron covers the “wild” side of Northeast El Paso County, including Black Forest, Falcon, Peyton and Calhan. He also covers some of Elbert County, north of U.S. Highway 24 and south of State Highway 86, including the towns of Elbert, Kiowa, Ramah, Simla, Matheson and a small portion of the Limon area.
Just think about this for a moment: How many times have you heard about a moose in the Black Forest area? I can tell you I have personally seen two moose since 2018.
Did you know there was not one single breeding pair of moose in all of Colorado before 1978? Who do we have to thank for going from no breeding pairs in the state to one of the only states in the Western U.S. with a growing population of moose?
The answer may surprise you. Thank hunters and anglers in Colorado.
That’s right. We have hunters and anglers to thank for our booming moose population. And for our growing elk herds. And for our efforts to recover the rare greenback cutthroat trout. And even for our work trying to rescue the black-footed ferret, the rarest mammal in North America.
I can see some of you looking puzzled right now. Why do hunters and anglers get credit for rescuing wildlife?
The answer is because they buy hunting and fishing licenses. And the proceeds from those sales largely fund the expensive biological research and fieldwork needed to rescue and reintroduce threatened and endangered species.
Contrary to popular belief, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is not a taxpayer-funded agency. CPW gets only a tiny fraction of its $260 million in revenue from taxpayers. The bulk of the agency revenue comes from license sales, the federal excise taxes, donations and grants to fund habitat projects that improve and increase the quality of the habitat, allowing for more animals to use the habitat.
So, to put it bluntly, if hunters or anglers did not enter the woods and lakes every year, many of the wild animals we all enjoy watching today may not be as plentiful, or even exist.
I have talked a lot about wildlife in the Black Forest and Peyton area, but I wanted to explain a bit about how Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages wildlife in support of our mission, and the tools utilized to accomplish this mission.
CPW’s mission is “To perpetuate the wildlife resources of the state, to provide a quality state parks system, and to provide enjoyable and sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities that educate and inspire current and future generations to serve as active stewards of Colorado’s natural resources.”
The wildlife in Colorado does not belong to one individual, nor does it belong to CPW. Wildlife in Colorado belongs to the people of Colorado. So, every citizen in the state of Colorado owns the wildlife within our great state. CPW is therefore entrusted with management of Colorado’s animal populations and habitat.
Of course, then this task and mission requires funding. Since, as I mentioned, CPW is an enterprise agency, it largely survives on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. They provide about 60% of our revenue. The rest is from federal excise taxes from the sale of hunting and fishing equipment (Pitman-Robertson/Dingle-Johnson Acts ~17% ), (Great Outdoors Colorado GOCO ~11%), (federal and state grants ~ 4%), (donations/item sales/etc. ~4%), and (severance taxes from oil and gas development~ 2%).
This means that the money used to improve habitat, monitor populations and enforce wildlife laws does not necessarily come from everyone in the state in the form of tax revenue. The largest funders of Colorado’s conservation effort are the sportsmen and sportswomen of the state who buy licenses.
I understand that not everyone reading this is a hunter or angler, and I even understand that someone reading this may even oppose hunting or fishing. However, everyone should know the role that hunting and fishing plays into the conservation of the animals that we enjoy seeing throughout our communities.
Wildlife requires the same basic amenities that humans require to live: food, water, shelter and space. The arrangement of those essential resources in a certain area is what is called habitat.
A specific habitat will only have a limited amount of each of those four necessities. This means that the habitat has a maximum number of animals that it can support throughout the year; this is called carrying capacity.
CPW biologists are constantly studying the size of each herd of wildlife and balancing how many elk, for example, can exist in a particular area along with the numbers of bear, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, deer and other species.
Nature did a great job keeping the balance for eons. But now, humans with our buildings, farms, roads and all have upset the balance. So, CPW biologists have to decide how many of each species to leave on the land. Then CPW issues hunting licenses to remove the excess animals in each herd to keep things in check. It’s called “consumptive use” management of our wildlife.
CPW’s goal is to keep healthy herds, striking a sustainable ratio of ages as well as male-to-female ratios. (We can’t have all male herds, or all females.) By monitoring herd size and structure, CPW gives out a certain number of licenses to help maintain these populations within the carrying capacity of the habitat they live in.
You may not be a hunter yourself, or you may not even like the idea of hunting and fishing, but one cannot deny the huge beneficial impact hunting and fishing has had on our wildlife populations and habitat protection and improvement.
In the coming months, I’ll share more of those stories as I write about wildlife issues in our community: Got a question, problem or column idea, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 719-227-5231.
I might even answer your question in a future installment of “Wildlife Matters.”
There was not one single breeding pair of moose in all of Colorado before 1978. Photo submitted