UNDER THE SUN

Price hike could have been better thought out

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— Last year local merchants who depend on patronage from out-of-state hunters learned that the Colorado Division of Wildlife was granted permission by a legislative bill to raise hunting license fees from out-of-state hunters by nearly double.

That bill should have been more reflective of the dependency rural businesses have on the state when it comes to hunting.

Elk licenses for nonresidents shot up from $250 to $450 and deer licenses increased from $150 to $270. That brings the price tag of Colorado big-game hunting up to comparable standards to surrounding western states.

The reason for the hike is justified, with the DOW's revenue going down significantly in the past few years. In 2000, the DOW saw a $4.5 million decrease in hunting and fishing licenses, its primary source of revenue.

One of the big reasons for the drop was the deer populations in Colorado were shrinking. To protect the herd, DOW offered deer hunting licenses in a limited draw only in 1999, departing from a long-running stand of unlimited, over-the-counter tags.

But along with the DOW's revenues plunging because of the shrinking deer herds in the late '90s, business owners many of whom do the bulk of their business during hunting season saw a drop in their revenues, too. Some businesses told the Steamboat Pilot & Today their profits were off at least 20 percent in 1999 and all of them point to deer tags going to draw as the reason.

Sporting-goods stores and other places selling licenses don't make their money from the licenses directly. What they bank on is a person coming in to buy a license and then buy their supplies.

But private businesses can't sell draw licenses. Those are handed out at DOW offices. The move to go to draw licenses exposes a dependency the private businesses have on the state in this matter.

This fall, the DOW says it will make $4 million more on the license fee increase, which unquestionably will resurge its budget. Private businesses won't see a penny of that money and probably won't see any resurging in their revenues this fall, either.

At best, they'll stay the same; the number of hunters visiting the state won't go up in 2001 with nearly double the price for out-of-state licenses. In fact, the DOW reports draw tag applications for the 2001 hunting season down 50,000 from the previous year.

But business owners and the DOW both agree that in a few years, hunting numbers will be strong again, mainly because Colorado's 263,300 elk the most in any state or province in North America will probably draw people back.

If that's the case, the legislation to raise the hunting fees should have allowed for a phase in of the fee increase, not a dramatic increase. Business owners shouldn't have been left to bite the bullet for the next couple of years, while the DOW, which has been in the same boat with business owners up until now, will see a $4 million increase in revenues. Small increases over a three-year time frame, for example, wouldn't have the initial scare factor as nearly doubling the price would have.

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