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Plan to double Parks and Wildlife fines gains momentum in Colorado

House bill advances in Senate; $184,000 in revenue at stake
Wildlife officer Stephanie Schuler checks hunters’ licenses during the 2005 hunting season in Southwest Colorado. State lawmakers are considering increasing the fine schedule for hunting and fishing violations, among other infractions.

DENVER – Colorado lawmakers have given initial approval to an effort to double or triple fines for hunting and fishing violations in Colorado’s state parks, part of an ongoing effort to update the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s mission and streamline its funding.

House Bill 1026, which has been approved by the House and is moving through the Senate, raises fines for more than 35 violations of hunting and fishing regulations in Colorado, including hunting and fishing without a license, paddleboarding without a life jacket and baiting bears. The bill also cracks down on people caught camping in state parks without a permit by raising the fine from $50 to five times the cost of the permit. The new fines would go into effect July 1.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in the Senate Finance Committee approved the bill and the more than $184,000 it is expected to generate next year. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

It has been at least 15 years – and in some cases, decades – since Parks and Wildlife increased many of its fines, Doug Vilsack, the division’s legislative liaison, said during a late March Senate hearing on the bill. As a result, ignoring hunting and fishing regulations in Colorado has often been cheaper than following them.

“We have a fine for failure to have a fishing license that’s $50, and it has been that way for 40 years,” Vilsack said. “And some of our fishing licenses cost more than $50, which doesn’t make sense.”

HB 1026 also will streamline allocation of money from fines within the division, which has a complex system that divides fines between various Parks and Wildlife budgets and the state’s general fund. Under the bill, funds will largely go to hunter education programs, Vilsack said.

The bill has rankled some House Republicans, who consider it an example of government overreach and claim it would further enable the division’s acquisition of private land, although the division has said that none of the fines help with land purchases. The House approved the bill in March on a nearly party-line vote, with only a couple of Republicans, including bill sponsor Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, offering support.

Parks and Wildlife officials don’t expect HB 1026 to decrease the number of violations. Instead, Catlin has argued, it ensures hunters and anglers are not taking advantage of a system that offers few penalties.

“You don’t have to be an economist to figure out the best way to fish here is without a license,” Catlin said in March.

rhandy@durangoherald.com

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