Hunters in Colorado are threatening to boycott the state this year over new gun laws... and if they make good on their promise the protest could end up hurting wildlife across the state. The fees hunters pay make up more than half of the state’s wildlife budget.
Below is a transcript of reporter Elise Thatcher's story:
If you want to hunt certain animals--like mule deer, this week was your chance to apply for a license. If you live in Colorado, you could end up paying about thirty dollars. But if you’re out of state, you could pay more than three hundred. Those big fees fund more than half of the state’s budget for wildlife management. And they could take a hit with a boycott by frustrated gun owners who want to make their voices heard. Randy Hampton is with the Division of Parks and Wildlife. He says, for now, the agency isn’t worried.
Randy Hampton: "Many of our units have more people that want to hunt them than licenses are available."
So the agency expects to sell the same number of licenses—and get the same amount of money coming in.
Hampton: "And we don’t anticipate that it’ll drop significantly below what’s available."
But it could be a different picture if the boycott continues through later this year, when hunting licenses go on sale over the counter and sell like crazy.
Hampton" "It really could impact us as an agency, and what we do to manage wildlife in Colorado, probably as quickly as in the fall, when we expect those hunters to come in October, November, if that revenue dries up, that would have an impact almost immediately."
Colorado’s new firearm laws don’t change hunting regulations. They do outlaw magazines larger than fifteen rounds, but existing ones are grandfathered in... As long as they’re purchased legally, of course. It’s more the principle of the thing, according to Brian Welder. He’s Secretary of the Colorado Outfitters Association, and runs the Maroon Bells Guide and Outfitters in Aspen.
Brian Welder: "Hunters are gun owners and they feel that their second amendment rights are infringed upon. I think the primary concern there is that, today it’s fifteen rounds or more. Tomorrow it’s handguns. It could be considered a whittling away of the second amendment. I actually have some emails here..."
Welder showed me one from a hunter who said he spent nineteen thousand dollars on hunting trips last year... not counting licenses and tags. He’s decided not to return to Colorado this year--which means not hiring an outfitter, nor spending money in businesses in the towns near those hunting areas.
Welder: "Grocery stores, hotels, gas stations, sporting goods stores. This is far more reaching that just outfitters themselves."
And then there was this message, from another sportsman.
Welder, reading an email: "I truly wish Colorado would not have pass the recent gun laws. Because of this I can no longer travel to Colorado for skiing or hunting."
The boycott has expanded beyond hunting--or skiing. Two shooting events have pulled out of the state for this summer. First the Ruger Rimfire Challenge World Championship canceled. Then the International Defensive Pistol Association followed suit--that had been scheduled for the July 4th weekend in Montrose. Association Spokesman Robert Ray says part of the reason was that whittling away concern about changing gun laws. Another was a technical question about how the new laws are written.
Robert Ray: "They’re not very clearly defined. There’s a very real concern that competitors coming in from out of state and also competitors within the state would run afoul of the law if it was interpreted in the most broadest sense."
It’s unclear what effect all of these actions will have on state revenue... but the protests have caught the attention of officials.
Al White: "I’ve heard from a lot of people, it hasn’t been all hunting centric."
Al White is Director of the Colorado Tourism Office. Like the state division of parks and wildlife, he’s waiting to see whether the boycott continues into the fall hunting season.
White: "They don’t always state whether or not they’re hunters or not. But they say that basically they’re taking Colorado out of their travel plans."
White says he understands that most callers are upset about the principle of changing gun laws--he doesn’t try to convince them to come to Colorado anyway.
White: "There’s nothing that my office can do to make them feel better."
Instead, Colorado’s tourism office is trying to get more Coloradoans to travel and spend tourism dollars near home. As for the hunting boycott, the Division of Wildlife announced on Facebook this week that lots of people applied for big game hunting licenses. So many, in fact, the agency’s credit card system crashed.