DOW gambles paying off, it seems

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Right now, I think Colorado Division of Wildlife officials are either patting themselves on the back or wiping the sweat off their brows.

Coming off one of the worst hunting seasons last year, during which harvests and hunter numbers were down and businesses reported a significant decline in revenue, this year's elk hunt was strong. Though numbers won't be calculated for months, local DOW officials have said it's one of the best years around here in a while. Other hunting units around the state are reporting positive information, too.

And to say that the good hunt was needed for the DOW would be an understatement.

A lot has happened between last year and this year that made many people nervous, especially business owners who bank on the multimillion-dollar industry in Routt County.

The first hubbub was the new season structure, which changed the dates of open elk seasons. After much discussion and worry that limiting an early season and adding a later open season, the vibe from the top was wait and see how it works.

Then, in an effort to improve revenues, the DOW pushed for a significant increase in out-of-state license fees. Next year, out-of-state hunters will see an increase in deer tags from $150 to $270 and elk and bear licenses from $250 to $450. That aligns fees with most western states.

And the vibe from the top was wait and see what the effect will be.

Then, like the DOW didn't have enough to worry about with its big game hunting management, biologists used a more accurate equation to calculate the number of elk that live in Colorado. The result was that elk herds, which officials already figured to be the largest in the lower 48 and in Canada, were significantly larger, surpassing the size the DOW believes is healthy.

The Bears Ears elk herd, which lives north of the Yampa River and east of the Little Snake River, was estimated to have 17,236 animals in it. DOW officials said they wanted the herd at 12,200 animals to avoid winter kill and negative impacts on the forests.

That meant a good hunt was needed to get the numbers down. And it would have to happen in a new season structure that many people believed would drive away the normal hunting crew.

Also, numbers would have to be decreased in the second year in a row that female elk tags were not being offered over the counter, which business owners believed to be the main reason 1999 hunter numbers were down.

But the vibe from the top was let's wait and see how it goes.

Thanks to early snow in the high country that pushed elk down into lower country where the hunters were waiting. The wait and see vibe now is, "See, I told ya."

If the populations objectives weren't reached this year, I'm guessing they will be mighty close. The new season structure proved to work, especially with Mother Nature helping out. And lastly, any out-of-state hunters who came to Colorado this year know Colorado is really the best place to hunt elk, just by sure elk numbers alone. The prospect of them returning to the biggest herd around, paying the same price as Montana or Wyoming, is good.

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