Steamboat Springs A $4.5 million decrease in annual revenue logged by the Colorado Division of Wildlife this year may cause hunting merchants to bite the bullet until deer populations improve.
"Basically, our license revenues have gone down," DOW spokesman Todd Malmsbury said.
The decrease in income is related to shrinking deer populations in Colorado.
In 1999, the DOW offered deer hunting licenses in a limited draw, departing from the long-running standard of unlimited, over-the-counter tags.
"Not surprisingly, it affected the number of licenses we sold," Malmsbury said.
Now that the state's 2000 revenues have been figured, the DOW saw a $4.5 million decrease in normal revenues from its primary source of income, hunting and fishing licenses.
That blow may have been softened initially. The 1998 hunting season featured a combined license to hunt male and female elk. Normally, female elk are on a draw system to limit the number harvested.
That move gave the DOW a $2 million spike in revenue, but similar tags have not been issued since.
In hopes to improve DOW income, a bill to increase nonresident fees of elk and deer licenses was passed in the 2000 legislative session. Next hunting season elk licenses rise in price from $250 to $450 and deer licenses will increase from $150 to $270.
The increase may solve some of the DOW's problems, Malmsbury said.
"We expect an income of $3 million to $4 million more. Of course it is really hard to predict," he said.
Without that type of increase, the DOW is afraid that it would have to cut some projects and services to adjust to the lack of income, DOW Director Russell George said.
Though the fee increase may be a step in the right direction financially for DOW, it could have an inverse affect on hunter-based businesses in rural areas, most of which are still reeling from income problems when deer tags went to draw.
Jim Simos sells more hunting licenses than anyone in northwest Colorado at his store in Craig, Cashway Distributors. He lost 20 percent of his business when deer tags went to draw .
"Everybody else did, too," he said.
He expects another decrease when nonresident fees increase.
"It's just going to detour hunters, which is going to hurt us in the retail business," he said.
That's the "ebbs and flows" of the industry, "just like any other business," George said.
The increase in nonresident fees may be untimely, but the money made will go right back into restoring the deer herd, which is what everybody wants, he added.
Rep. Jack Taylor agreed that the DOW took a "big hit" when the deer licenses went to draw, but he said there is more that can be done than just raising the nonresident fees.
"I'm sure they're using that as a reason, but they don't like to talk about a ($58 million) reserve that they have," he said.
The reserve is what the DOW calls a fund equity. Half of it goes to ongoing capital projects, Taylor said.
He wondered why the DOW doesn't use the other half to solve some of its money problems.
There is $22 million in the fund after the capital projects are taken out. About half of that shouldn't be touched except in an emergency, George said.
"We have learned since (the 1980s) that there is a need to keep a reserve of 14 percent. That's $12 million," he said.
George explained the fund really has $10 million to draw from.
"We can use some of that money, but after a while, where will we be?" he asked.
The problem will still need to be dealt with, so they might as well raise the nonresident fees, which he said needed to be done anyway, and wait for the deer populations to grow.