On behalf of the Colorado Field Ornithologists (CFO), a volunteer organization serving more than 4,000 wIldlife enthusiasts statewide, we applaud the Commission’s dedication to protecting critical wildlife habitat among Colorado's more than 350 State Wildlife Areas (SWA). We fully understand the need to restrict access to these properties for users whose licenses contribute to the cost of SWA maintenance. Since the initiation of the new access policy on July 1, our members have been discussing it on our social media platforms (firstname.lastname@example.org and the CFO Facebook page). The overall sentiment is that birders and other nonconsumptive visitors should be counted separately from hunters and fishers when using these properties. By calling on visitors to buy a license that doesn't reflect the reason for their presence, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is creating a situation where you will receive inaccurate data on the primary uses of the SWAs, which can lead to management decisions that run counter to the welfare of the wildlife that the majority of visitors are there to enjoy. As an example, many birders enjoy watching and identifying odonates (dragonflies) during the summer months. If a SWA has multiple fishless water bodies that host native odonates, it may draw large numbers of people who go there to observe them. If these visitors have bought fishing licenses as a result of the new access policy, CPW may conclude that their stakeholders (fishing license holders) want the water bodies stocked to improve angler success. This action would decrease the number of dragonflies in the area (they'd be eaten by the stocked fish), thereby reducing the SWA's value to visitors. Such a result serves no one's interests.
CFO proposes that CPW provides a birding/nonconsumptive use license in addition to the existing hunting and fishing licenses. This serves four purposes:
It allows use of SWAs to birders and other nonconsumptive visitors.
It improves CPW's understanding of who uses the SWAs and when.
It facilitates birders' and other nonconsumptive users' efforts to contribute financially to the maintenance of these properties.
Species monitoring is a crucial, yet underfunded portion of CPW's mandate. By encouraging birders and other visitors to SWAs, CPW gains a greater understanding of the wildlife species present on their properties. Many birders and other nature enthusiasts submit their wildlife sightings to online databases, such as eBird and iNaturalist. In the case of eBird, each SWA has a bar chart for all species observed that is updated in real time after each visit to an SWA that generates a checklist. Over time, these checklists provide a robust estimate of the number of species present and their relative abundance.
Limiting access to SWAs for people who don't buy hunting or fishing licenses is counterproductive; rather than working to become inclusive, this policy limits the ability of Coloradons to show their appreciation for their SWAs through buying a license that reflects their interests. A birding license would permit the CPW to track the relative contribution of birders and other recreational groups in relation to hunters and fishermen, and adjust your management plans accordingly.
Thank you for your consideration.