Jim Haskins: Hunting season has begun

— I want to start this column with a "thank you" to all of the people who have stopped by, called or e-mailed to congratulate me on my recent promotion to area wildlife manager. Filling the void left at the DOW by the retirement of Susan Werner will be a task in itself. I appreciate the support I have received so far. To all of you all in advance, thank you for working with me as I enter this new phase of my career.

As you can imagine, it is a busy time at the Division of Wildlife as we enter hunting season. Archery season opened Aug. 25, and hunting seasons of one kind or another will be running through the end of the year. It's a busy time for me in the office, but it is an especially busy time for the district wildlife managers in the field.

With hunting seasons come the inevitable trespass calls from private property owners. If you encounter a situation that requires law enforcement action, record notes on what you observe as soon as possible. Good descriptions of individuals and vehicles, including license plate numbers, go a long way toward sorting out these situations. It's also very important to get the information to us in a timely manner. Don't confront trespassing or poaching situations. It's best if you allow the DOW or the county sheriff's office to respond and handle these situations. We are thankful for the help of the Routt and Jackson County sheriff's offices during the hunting seasons.

One problem that the DOW is continuing to focus on is an issue known as "herding." Each year we get calls from hunters who claim that they have seen individuals using vehicles, lights, noisemakers or other devices to influence the movement of big game animals. Other people have reported individuals herding animals from public land onto adjacent private land before seasons start. Investigations have shown that some of these incidents are nothing more than someone being upset those herds have taken refuge on private land because of hunting pressure on public lands or because private land habitat is superior to the surrounding public land. Investigations have also found that some of these herding situations are occurring.

For the past two years, the DOW has convened a law enforcement summit in Northwest Colorado. We've worked out plans to investigate these incidents and exchanged information about potential violators. Officers are on the lookout for situations that might fall under various regulations that make it illegal to harass wildlife or interfere with lawful hunting activities. Officers have been instructed to issue significant citations if they observe these incidents.

While the issue of herding is cloudy and open to interpretation, there are some general guidelines that can help landowners determine what kinds of behavior might raise some suspicion of herding activity. Landowners do have the right to patrol fence lines and prevent trespassing during big game seasons; however, racing along a fence line or a road ahead of an approaching elk or deer herd could easily be construed as herding. Many landowners do not allow any hunting on their property. This practice can cause concentrations of animals on these private lands, but it is not a violation. Many landowners also manage the vegetation on their lands in a manner that encourages big game to spend time there. As long as the landowner allows the animals to move at will, there is no violation. Any activity or action that could be construed as preventing animals from moving freely could be considered herding.

Last year, the DOW received more than 70 calls about incidents in our area of Northwest Colorado that were described as "herding" by the callers. Several of those calls did result in suspects being contacted about activities on their properties, and in one instance a citation was issued.

Hopefully we will not encounter any problems this year, but we want to alert landowners in the area that we are on the lookout for these kinds of problems.

Have a safe and fruitful fall. Please don't hesitate to contact me at (970) 871-2842 if you have any questions.

Haskins is the Steamboat Springs Area Wildlife Manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

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