Planning a trip to a Colorado state wildlife area? Now there’s a pass for that

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The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission recently voted unanimously to approve a new Colorado State Wildlife Area Pass to access its more than 350 properties.

The new pass will go on sale May 1. Those purchasing an annual Colorado hunting or fishing license will not be required to purchase the new permit. Those visiting the sites without a proper license or pass can be fined $139.30.

“This is an important step in ensuring everyone who visits our state wildlife areas is contributing to their management and maintenance,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Dan Prenzlow said in a news release.

The properties were free for anyone to access until July. That’s when new regulations went into effect requiring visitors 18 or older to possess a valid hunting or fishing license to access any state wildlife area leased by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Jason Clay, the wildlife agency’s Northeast Region spokesperson, said feedback indicated some people did not want to buy a hunting or fishing license to access the properties, resulting in a working group to look for other options.

“We were trying to find the right way to make this work while keeping in mind the intended purposes for the properties, which is wildlife habitat and wildlife recreation,” Clay said. “We think it is a win-win situation but we will evaluate how it goes.”

The properties total more than 1.4 million acres across the state and were intended to provide hunting and fishing opportunities. But increasing visitation from other recreationists has created an increase in disruption to wildlife and impacts to the habitat, according to the news release. 

In Larimer County, there are 19 properties totaling 30,939 acres of land and water, ranging from 12 acres at Bellaire Lake to 25,497 acres at Cherokee/Lone Pine. These include popular state wildlife areas Watson Lake, Dowdy Lake, West Lake, Boedecker Reservoir, Lon Hagler Reservoir, Douglas Lake and Wellington.

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Funding for these sites comes from a portion of hunting and fishing licenses, which are matched with federal income from an excise tax collected on the sale of hunting and fishing equipment.

Previously, the state wildlife agency’s agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service precluded it from generating income from the properties, basically disallowing creation of another pass to access the areas. That changed last year, when the federal wildlife agency allowed a pass to become an option.

The commission set the pass fee similar to an annual fishing license. The annual pass fee is $46.48 and includes a required $10.40 Colorado Wildlife Habitat Stamp, which also is required when purchasing a hunting or fishing license. Annual passes for youths (16-17 years of age), seniors (65 and older) and low-income residents are $10.07 with no requirement to purchase a habitat stamp. A one-day pass is $9, with no habitat stamp purchase required.

Moving forward, the annual pass will be valid from March 1 of the purchase year through March 31 of the following year, aligning with the 13-month season for a state fishing license.

The working group will complete an audit of all state wildlife areas to determine allowed activities, seasonal closures for wildlife and reviews to determine if the property is meeting its intended purpose as a wildlife area.

The passes are only for access to state wildlife areas and do not allow entry to state parks, state trust lands, national parks, U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management sites.

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How to get a Colorado State Wildlife Area Pass

To buy the new state wildlife area pass, visit any state wildlife office or go online at https://www.cpwshop.com/home.page starting May 1. The Fort Collins office is located at 317 W. Prospect Road and is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The phone number is 970 472-4300.

For frequently asked questions about state wildlife areas and the new regulations, visit https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/LandWater/SWA/License-Requirements-SWA-STL-Access-FAQ.pdf.

Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at milesblumhardt@coloradoan.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.