DOW aims to bring more hunters to area

— The Wildlife Commission wants more hunters killing elk in 2002 and is changing rules to meet that objective.

When official numbers are calculated in April, Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists are predicting 270,000 elk will live in Colorado 20,000 more than last year, Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Tyler Baskfield said.

The DOW wants the herd down to 180,000 animals to keep winterkill rates low and the herds' impact on the environment and other species in the forest at a minimum.

To put more out-of-state hunters in the field, nonresident cow (female) licenses will be reduced to $250 in 2002, compared to last year's $450 price. The price of a bull license will increase from $450 to $470 to keep pace with inflation. The cost for either-sex licenses will remain at $470.

Elk hunters in most of the Western Slope also can carry cow and bull licenses at the same time in 2002, increasing the chance of harvesting an animal. Cow tags will remain in a draw, but most hunters wanting to hunt female elk should

be able to get a tag, Baskfield said.

The Wildlife Commission, which is the governing body of the DOW, announced the changes last week in response to one of the worst harvests in an elk-hunting season on record, he said.

Early harvest projections showed hunters killed 30,000 elk in the fall of 2001, Baskfield said. That is half the number of animals shot in 2000, which was a record-setting year for harvests.

DOW officials wanted to break or come close to the harvest record again in 2001 to further reduce the elk population but that didn't happen.

"We were kind of hit by a triple whammy," Baskfield said.

First off, nonresident hunters in Colorado were down 40 percent. The DOW suspects a combination of a nearly doubled price increase of nonresident elk licenses in 2001, a stalled economy and the hesitation of Americans to travel after Sept. 11 played a role in the decrease.

Local businesses depending on hunters in Routt County echoed the reports of fewer hunters in the state.

"It was very slow," said Virginia Paxton, who owns Spiro's Tradin' Post in Oak Creek with her husband, Bill.

Like many business owners in Routt County who cater to hunters, Paxton said the big-game season is important for getting them over the winter hump, even though locals make up the base of their patronage.

"It gets you through February, March and April," Paxton said.

But even if more hunters come into the state next year, that doesn't guarantee that more elk will be killed. In 2001, for example, the lack of hunters may have not been the primary reason why the harvest was so low.

"Weather played a good role in it, too," Baskfield said.

Snow, which helps hunters track and stalk animals, was vacant during the elk seasons in October and November. Plus, warm weather during the fall kept the elk in higher elevations, which makes the animals more difficult to find.

"The majority of harvests take place in lower elevations," Baskfield said.

The price reduction and license changes will be in effect for the 2002 hunting season, which is in the fall.

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