GRAND JUNCTION, Colo., – The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approved big game hunting license numbers on Thursday for the upcoming fall hunting seasons. Agency staff utilized herd population estimates to recommend reductions in license numbers for mule deer, elk and pronghorn while recommending increases in licenses to manage growing populations of moose and black bears. According to a 2008 study, big game hunting in Colorado provides more than $430 million per year in economic impact to the state and supports 4,660 jobs in the state.

Colorado is a national leader in big-game hunting opportunity. This year, Colorado will issue more than 240,000 limited licenses for the state’s ‘big three’ species – elk, deer and pronghorn. Wildlife managers and biologists around the state recommended the issuance of 139,461 limited elk licenses, 79,800 limited deer licenses and 23,862 pronghorn licenses for the 2012 fall seasons.

Statewide, mule deer licenses declined 5.8 percent from 2011.

“Mule deer populations are being intensively monitored and we’ve seen some declines, especially in the western part of the state,” explained Andy Holland, Statewide Big Game Manager. “Between severe winters, increased development, habitat decline, and migration corridor fragmentation, most western states are seeing declines in mule deer populations. We adjusted license numbers accordingly.”

In addition to issuing nearly 140,000 limited elk licenses, Colorado plans to issue an unlimited number of over-the-counter bull elk licenses in the archery, 2nd rifle and 3rd rifle seasons. The number of unlimited licenses available makes Colorado the top destination in the U.S. for elk hunting opportunity. The 2.2 percent decline in the number of limited elk tags offered this year is mostly related to elk populations reaching management objectives after several years of intentional efforts by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reduce elk damage on private lands. Despite the elk license number reduction, Colorado remains the destination state for elk hunters, offering more elk licenses by far than any other state.

Black bear hunting license numbers will be increased in the state after biologists determined that the statewide population is larger than previously believed. New estimates show that approximately 16,000 to 18,000 black bears live in the state.

“The emergence and increased affordability of things like DNA, tooth cementum analysis and GPS tracking collars have given us new tools to know that Colorado’s current black bear population is robust and larger than previously believed,” said Jerry Apker, Carnivore Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Apker further explained to the Commission that the agency’s black bear knowledge exceeds some other species because every hunter-harvested bear in Colorado is required to be checked by Parks and Wildlife personnel and significant historical harvest information about black bears is maintained by the agency. The historical harvest information coupled with new technology led to the increased population estimate and the increased number of hunting licenses approved for this coming fall.

In other business, the Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to deny a petition that would have allowed rock climbing on property at the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery. Commissioners based the decision on concerns about an active golden eagle nest in the immediate area and concerns regarding diversion of wildlife funds, safety issues, parking problems and potential damage to sensitive hatchery and water equipment in the area. The Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery was built in 1955 and was the largest trout hatchery in the world at that time. The hatchery raised about 3.7 million fish last year and is responsible for about 40 percent of the catchable trout in the state hatchery system.

Commissioners also approved regulations to grant military veterans and active duty members of the military free entrance to all state parks on Veteran’s Day each Nov. 11. The Commission ruling makes permanent the previous tradition of the former Parks Board passing a “free day” for veterans and active duty service members each year.

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife is honored to be able to support our service members with this action,” said Ken Brink, Assistant Director for Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is a 14-member board, appointed by the governor, which sets regulations and policies for Colorado’s state parks wildlife programs. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meets monthly and travels to communities around the state to facilitate public participation in its processes. For the remainder of 2012, the commission will travel to Craig, Sterling, Gunnison, Glenwood Springs, Durango, Yuma and Colorado Springs.

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