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Big game benefits from wilderness/roadless areas

Dear Editor:

Recently, I’ve heard some grumbling from those opposed to new wilderness designations in the White River National Forest, with some even implying that more wilderness will negatively impact the Division of Wildlife’s (DOW’s) license fee revenue and that hunters who can’t ride ATVs wherever they want are somehow being denied access to public lands.

These folks apparently doesn’t understand that part of keeping good, healthy big game herds (in particular, elk) on national forests and other public lands is to make sure they have ample secure habitat – big wild country with large blocks of land without motorized disturbance. In fact, closing or decommissioning roads has been found to increase elk survival and the number of bulls, extend the age structure, and increase hunter success, which equates to more hunters, and more hunting license revenue for DOW.

The argument that harvest objectives won’t be met or fewer hunters will buy licenses if ATVs aren’t allowed to run roughshod over public lands has several holes in it, not the least of which is the lower success rate in areas where ATVs are used indiscriminately.

According to Jay Sarason, DOW’s law enforcement chief, “A lot of areas have become inundated with OHVs. Deer and elk have come to associate the noise from OHVs as the time to leave. I have no doubt we greatly decrease the harvest with OHVs buzzing around like flies.”

As long as hunters have roamed Colorado, they have had the responsibility of planning ahead to get their game out. For decades, this has been done on foot or with stock. Game carts are also an appropriate tool in some situations. But if we allow the habitat to be overrun with motorized vehicles, we will find neither the game nor the solitude we seek, and the hunt will be spoiled for the majority of us.

As Colorado Backcountry Hunter and Angler (BHA) member Bill Sustrich says, “During the past decade, I have personally had six out of seven elk hunts ruined by the careless intrusions of ATV operators. This epidemic has forced me to abandon one prime hunting area after another, only to encounter the same situation elsewhere.”

Today in Colorado, elk and other big game increasingly find themselves lethally sandwiched between aggressive harassment by motorized invaders and decreased hiding cover, which leads to fewer elk, fewer successful hunts, and less license revenue for DOW.

Currently, a mere 5 percent of Colorado is designated as wilderness, the gold standard for wildlife habitat and hunting grounds, and Bill Sustrich hit the nail on the head when he said, “The fact is, nothing yet created by mankind can offer the degree of wildlife refuge as that provided by wilderness designation.”

David Lien

Co-chair, Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

Colorado Springs


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