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Is Colorado promoting hunting or habitat destruction?

Column by Hal Walter

Wildlife – May 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

IT’S APRIL, the cruelest month, as I write this, and I feel like a grumpy old bear waking up from a cold winter’s nap. And nothing makes me grouchier than examining the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s annual regulation rags, especially the one pertaining to big-game hunting.

At least DOW got rid of the beer ad that disgraced its big-game brochure last year. Perhaps somebody saw the bizarre twist of advertising alcohol in the same publication with rules specifically outlawing the concurrent use of this drug and firearms.

But they replaced it with something even more outrageous. Here in the West, where elk habitat is disappearing to development at an alarming rate, the agency we entrust with the protection of Colorado wildlife is pandering to the destruction of habitat by allowing its hunting brochure to serve as an advertising medium for 35-acre elk-hunting “ranches” complete with cabin, generator and a 30.06 rifle for only $69,900 (financing available.) Now, instead of just sitting on the bench while developers destroy wildlife habitat, the DOW is actually playing the game — for the wrong team.

It’s ironic that the DOW is frantic to restore the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse in order to keep it from being listed for protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The mouse appears to have been impacted by development. It’s just a mouse, but officials of many state resource agencies don’t want federal wildlife officials making them do what they should be doing in the first place — protecting, restoring and preserving habitat for all of us, mice included. Better to get those mouse numbers back in line before we have to face difficult subjects like federally mandated limits on development to prevent destruction of habitat.

The DOW has done a good job of purchasing and setting aside lands that may have otherwise become subdivisions. That’s nice, but something really needs to be done on a larger scale. This disappearing jumping rodent is just a symptom of a larger disease, a hantavirus of the soul.

Does anybody other than myself give a rat’s rump? If you care, you should complain loudly about these hunting and fishing publications. The wildlife you save may be your own.

This real-estate hustle is the most blatant abuse of the hunting brochure, but the several pages of advertising for all-terrain vehicles runs a close second. I know that a high percentage of hunters use these machines, because I see a lot of them on trailers every hunting season. I respect the rights of hunters to use these machines to travel to and from hunting areas, but I do not believe such machines should be used in order to “road hunt” from mountain trails (which is basically what a good number of hunters do).

I’m no lawyer, but I’d say the laws governing the use of these things are unclear at the very least. In a section entitled “Off Highway Vehicles,” a sentence says that “hunters also must keep their firearms unloaded and in a carrying case while driving an ATV.” However, under the “It’s Against the Law To:” heading, the rules allude to a round in the magazine being legal and they make no mention of carrying cases in the section about ATVs. It’s definitely against the law to shoot from one of these machines or to use an ATV to “hunt, harass or drive wildlife,” but it’s not clear just what this means.

Firearms carried on snowmobiles clearly must be unloaded and cased. But I didn’t see any ads for snowmobiles in the hunting brochure.

As I see it, the rules should read the same for all motorized vehicles. Hunters should be required to be 50 feet away from motorized machines or the trail before taking a shot at an animal. Even road hunters must get that far from the centerline of any road to legally shoot at an animal. There’s a reason we call this hunting, not drive-by shooting.

There’s some interesting new stuff in the hunting brochure this year. The DOW has provided a special section for the fastest-growing segment of our society — convicts. Now anyone convicted of any felony can’t hunt because they may not possess firearms, muzzle-loaders or archery equipment. But those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of “domestic violence” can hunt only with a muzzle-loading weapon or archery equipment.

I sure am glad to know all those bad-check writers won’t be wandering the woods with weapons, and that spouse-beaters are limited to primitive devices like those used to run up the biggest body count of all time in the Civil War.

THAT’S PRETTY WEIRD, but what’s even more weird is that Coloradans would approve of hundreds of thousands of their hunting and fishing brochures being printed by a Utah publishing company.

Yet that’s exactly what’s being done. This printing is being paid for with proceeds generated by Colorado wildlife, which is owned by Colorado residents. A few years ago the purchase of Wyoming marble by a Colorado governmental entity warranted a legislative brouhaha. This is just as outrageous. The printing should be done on a Colorado press.

The brochure is superficial to the real issue here, which runs much deeper. Oddly enough, one ad in the booklet spells it out loud and clear.

The headline, in military-style stencil lettering, is: “MAN VS. NATURE.”

I always thought that man was supposed to work with nature and be one with nature. That the hunter husbands his prey. That all things wild should be treated with the utmost respect. That all things natural are intertwined — elk, man, stonefly, magpie, trout, deer, piƱon, coyote…

In a publication that advertises gadgets and toys to help hunters with their assault against nature, there’s precious little information about how a hunter should pay respect to wild things, something that we should learn from the native peoples whose lives depended upon a balance with nature. Instead it’s all about where and how to shoot the biggest bull or buck.

It’s all man vs. nature.

Surprisingly, opinion polls indicate that the majority of the general public does not have a problem with hunting. However, polls do show that the public has a low opinion of hunters. So do I, and I’m a hunter.

Whenever I see something like this hunting brochure I am appalled, and I think that if this is what hunters are about, then they deserve a bad rap.

It further annoys me that my license fees help finance this sort of absurdity.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife could help hunters change their image by publishing a hunting brochure that demonstrates respect for wildlife and habitat rather than using this publication to commercialize our natural resources. Moreover, the DOW should stand up to the forces of development rather than pandering to them through cheesy advertising and quick-fix solutions to keep species off the endangered list.

From his home near Westcliffe, Hal Walter hunts for editors who will pay him when he’s not after other game.