Paying to Recreate: For Some But Not Others? Colorado State Wildlife Areas

I’m always interested in the concept of paying for recreation. Why is it OK in State Parks and National Parks, but not OK for the FS and BLM? Why is it OK for hunters and fishers and OHVers to pay via licenses and/or taxes, but not others? Is there some kind of fairness/justice issue here?

Recently in Colorado, the Department of Parks and Wildlife required people to buy hunting or fishing licenses to recreate in State Wildlife Areas. I belong to several hiking Meetup groups and when the info was shared, the general feeling seemed to be, “oh that makes sense, if we use it we should pay.” The twist that many of us didn’t get (like me, why not have a permit that combines with State Park access for a cheaper combined fee?) was that there are bureaucratic obstacles to what you call the charges. From the CPW FAQs.

Why didn’t my SWA Access Permit contribute to CPW? The SWA Access Permit was not recognized under the Federal Aid Program as a valid hunting or fishing license. The current SWA Access Permit system, used on only four SWAs, negatively impacted the CPW wildlife finances. The monies generated from this access permit fund lessens the following year’s Federal Aid monies used by CPW by the amount the SWA Access Permit fund accumulated.
Why did the Commission not consider creating a wildlife watcher license that can be used to access wildlife properties?
Any wildlife watcher license would have issues similar to those created by the State Wildlife Area Permit (see above).

Here is a story from the Colorado Sun titled “Opposition Grows” by Jason Blevins.

Where does the opposition come from? (my comment in bold)

Several recreation groups — including Colorado Mountain Club, Colorado Mountain Bike Association, American Whitewater, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Boulder Climbing Community — are urging the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to consider the new rule’s impact on recreation. In a letter to the commission, those groups noted how many State Wildlife Areas are popular for uses beyond hunting and fishing. The groups pointed to places like Bergen Peak in Jefferson County, Dome Rock next to Mueller State Park, the Loma Boat Launch in Fruita and the Buena Vista Whitewater Park as locations that now require users to be licensed to access.

American Whitewater pointed out more than 60 popular river segments that pass through State Wildlife Areas. Colorado Mountain Club noted there are more than 20 popular hiking trails that overlap with State Wildlife Areas.

Access to open spaces — part of a statewide initiative called Colorado The Beautiful that connects residents with parks and trails — crosses State Wildlife Areas and requiring a license to cross those lands could limit access for underprivileged communities, Julie Mach, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club, said during the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting on July 17.

(Charging for access, camping, licenses or taxes at any Park or Forest or Wildlife Area could limit access for underprivileged communities anywhere, is this a good argument?)

“There is, I think, a lot of confusion from the recreation standpoint on how CPW is treating these areas when it comes to non-consumptive recreation,” said Mach, whose group suggested possible exemptions from the licensing regulations for hikers and paddlers passing through these properties.

It also sounds like excessive people may be bothering wildlife.. which CMC and GOB at least, seem very concerned about when other people than non-motorized recreationists do it.

CPW said the reason for the change is the sites have seen a significant increase in use outside of hunting and fishing. Those uses include walking dogs, horseback riding, ATV riding, hiking, wildlife watching and kayaking and canoeing. It said that has disrupted wildlife and harmed wildlife habitat and impacted the hunters and anglers who help pay for the properties through license purchases.

While many of the properties are still primarily used by hunters and fishers, some areas are heavily visited by those other users.

CPW spokesman Travis Duncan said the agency doesn’t have specific numbers of people using the properties but said it is evident that use has greatly increased over the years and the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the increase.

“We have seen so much more non-wildlife related use of these properties that we need to bring it back to the intended use of conservation and protection of wildlife and their habitat,’’ CPW Director Dan Prenzlow said.


Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which does not receive taxpayer dollars, collects 10% of the revenue generated by the Colorado Lottery — roughly $3.4 billion over the last 36 years — but that goes toward the state’s 41 parks. Wildlife areas and trust lands that are managed for protecting animals and their habitat are supported by angler and hunter license fees.

In recent years, wildlife officials have reported increases in people hiking, biking, paddleboarding, camping and driving off-road vehicles in areas managed for wildlife. In some places, officials have found people setting up semi-permanent living situations. Many visitors assume that recreation in those areas is free, Duncan said.

“But if you are out recreating, it has some kind of impact and it has some kind of cost,” he said.

It’s kind of interesting that there’s apparently no “hey it only seems fair to pay” group to weigh in, or be quoted. Maybe we should start one.

4 thoughts on “Paying to Recreate: For Some But Not Others? Colorado State Wildlife Areas”

  1. “It’s kind of interesting that there’s apparently no “hey it only seems fair to pay” group to weigh in, or be quoted. Maybe we should start one.”

    I’ll join.

    I’m not sure if the article was explicit enough in breaking down how licenses equal dollars. Pittman Robertson funds which pay for quite a bit of wildlife conservation work in CO is cut up at the national level based on how many licenses are sold in a state. So no matter how many AR-15s are sold at a thousand a pop ($110 in PR conservation taxes thank you very much), that money goes to the feds who distribute it based on fishing/hunting licenses. Park passes or wildlife watching permits pay zero. As a bonus license funds are the only thing paying salaries, for Fish Cops in any case, not sure about biologists, probably for in house salaried biologists as well. Colorado Fish and Game officers need a steady source of funding, the more broad based it is, the more of a sure thing.

    Also. Take a look at those groups. How many people in those groups will vote yes on the wolf ballot issue? Just about 100% I’d figure. Wolves in the west average 20 dead elk per year per wolf. That’s some competition that adds up in a hurry. I hear all kinds of facts and figures bandied about by those who don’t hunt, but truth is hunters just about universally in all states in the west do not appreciate wolf introduction for a reason, it leads to empty freezers and a winter eating hamburger. If the folks in those groups are also folks who work at cross purpose to Colorado hunters, well they can go fly a kite.

    Also. I can’t carry a firearm 150 yards across Boulder County Open space to access miles of National Forest for hunting. Boulder Climbing Community should feel privileged to cross the lands hunters paid for paying only the price of an in state fishing license.

    Do I agree with pay to play? Not at all. Heck I’d like to see land redistribution or at least return large parcels to the public domain. No one should have to pay anywhere, public lands belong to us. Right now though, here in CO, public lands are primarily used by the upper middle class and beyond, the people not working due to covid and not worried about income.

    • Some Sai thanks for the additional information on the funding source (Pittman Robertson). Looks to me like they should be including the hiking and watching licenses not subtracting. Does a single day in state fishing license count the same as an out of state elk? ( With the PR funding)

  2. As a hunter and angler, I definitely think that cpw is in the right. There has been a significant impact on the wildlife in the swa areas, which has been detrimental, and sometimes devastating to their populations. Allowing only people that cpw uses to control those animal populations in these areas makes sense if they want the herds and fish to be able to survive at all.

  3. Happy to weigh in on the “it only seems fair” from a pragmatic position. How much more evidence is required to understand that Congress will NEVER appropriate sufficient funding to adequately manage the federal recreation estate? Seriously!

    I initiated “pay to play” on the Oregon Dunes NRA in the 1990s to wonderful effect. Receipts were significant and “managed” by a citizen group that kibitzed with FS to target investments. Fees stayed local and were not sent to US Treasury. We lost a court case to a disgruntled wind surfer who accessed ocean on a road through the Dunes. I told Dept of Justice this was a VERY important case; needed top a top litigator. Big yawn. But ripple effect screwed FS nation-wide.

    There are many ways to assure EQUITY for people with limited or no means to pay. Discounts,
    “free days”, or free to all below poverty line, etc. But really… we offered an annual family pass for only $25. About the price of one McDonalds meal for 4. If people want well-maintained, high quality recreation on fed lands, paying a nominal fee is a GREAT investment.


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