Here at The Pond, we take our responsibility to sustainability and environmental stewardship seriously. Making a positive impact on habitats and species through the causes we support and the way we design our gear is part of our identity. It’s easy as a community of anglers and outdoor enthusiasts to appreciate the opportunities we already have to connect with the outdoors. However, as interest in outdoor recreation continues to grow, we also know that we must identify responsible options for expanding recreation opportunities and promote those solutions that have as low of an impact on fish and wildlife resources as possible. To that end, we wanted to take a look at the status of public access in our home state of Colorado to see where we stand, and what we can do to make sure that access is available for generations to come.
What is the state doing to improve the state of fishing in Colorado?
Public support for outdoor recreation and access, and the appeal of fishing are on the rise in Colorado. Our state’s increasing population and the increasing number of people out trying to find fish on any given day has its trade-offs as we all know, but socially and politically, anglers’ values and contributions are largely recognized and appreciated.
The recreational fishing industry in Colorado continues to grow and support more business owners, more jobs, more communities, and more people interested in this sport, or lifestyle, depending on how you do it. In 2017 fishing in Colorado contributed more than $2.4 billion dollars in economic output and supported over 17,000 jobs statewide,1 and if you live or recreate here, you know that fishing is popular.
The number of Colorado fishing license holders has increased steadily for the past 15 years, and the ratio of Colorado fishing license holders to the total number of Colorado residents has been consistent during that time. Anglers are well-distributed across the state, too, so it’s safe to say that every community member and politician in Colorado either knows or lives near a resident angler.
Anglers’ commitment to healthy rivers and watersheds benefits not just fish and wildlife, but also other water-based recreation, and clean water for all, making anglers’ values and conservation goals very relevant to the business and environmental landscape in Colorado.
We currently have a governor who wants to increase outdoor recreation opportunities for “a wider range of Coloradans,”2 and who recognizes the major economic and cultural contributions that sportspersons make. We also have state office and agency leaders who are outdoorsmen themselves and understand the importance of clean water and public access including Dan Gibbs (Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources), Tim Mauck (Deputy Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources), Dan Prenzlow (Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife), and Nathan Fey (Director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office). This has resulted in some noteworthy gains made in public access and increased investment in outdoor recreation recently.
For those who like to fish at state parks--Governor Polis asked that $10 million of the 2020 budget be used for state parks improvements and development.3 As of March 10th it looks like $6 million will be appropriated to the CO Department of Natural Resources to allow them to open the new state park at Fishers Peak and improve infrastructure and amenities at other state parks within the next three years.4
For those who live near Colorado state trust lands, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado State Land Board commissioners agreed in July of 2019 to double the amount of state trust land open for public hunting and fishing by 2021.5 Colorado state trust land is owned by the State, managed by the State Land Board, and used to generate money to fund state institutions (like public schools). 98% of state trust land is leased for agriculture, but the land can be simultaneously leased for other compatible uses as well. 100,000 acres of state trust land were opened to the public for the 2019 hunting season, and one of these properties also provides year-round fishing access. Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to expand public access to around 200,000 acres of state trust land in 2020, mostly for hunting in Eastern CO, but some could provide fishing opportunities as well. You can find a link to the web map showing which state trust land properties are under consideration for public access HERE.
There were 28 Colorado state trust land properties that allowed year-round fishing access as of 2019. The easiest way to find which Colorado state trust land properties allow fishing is to go to Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s ‘Colorado State Recreation Lands’ brochure, then to the “State Trust Lands (STLs) Public Access Program” section to look at specific property permissions and restrictions (link). Is it possible that more state trust land could be opened to provide more access and opportunity for anglers eventually? Yes; but it’s also important that we ensure our state agencies know that that’s important to us.
For those of you who tend to not fish on state land, these developments mean more options for everyone else to use, and perhaps fewer people on your favorite stretch of water.
The State grants money to fishing access projects every year. Colorado Parks and Wildlife supported 11 projects in 2019 with $755,000 through its ‘Fishing is Fun’ program. This is one way that Colorado Parks and Wildlife works with communities and organizations to improve fishing access and opportunity across the state, and it has been doing so for 30 years. If you have an idea for improving local fishing access you can submit an application, or propose your idea to a local organization or commission.
Your fishing license purchases support the state’s Search and Rescue Fund. In fact, the state’s 2019 fiscal year fishing license revenues provided 42% of that fund, so tell all of your friends to buy a Colorado fishing license or a CORSAR card to help support search and rescue operations.
So, what can we do?
All of us who are interested in sustaining healthy fisheries need to consider the ways we can help to ensure that the natural resources we love so much are not lost. If we strengthen the connections between anglers, organizations, businesses, and leaders who share our broader goals, we will strengthen our influence and increase our effectiveness.
Vote for elected officials who prioritize conservation, but also “vote with your dollars” on matters you care about, as my dad has always told me to do. Conservation organizations and outdoors businesses who care about public land, clean water, fish, and wildlife will continue to work hard to protect what’s most important to all of us, as long as their members and clients (all of us) continue to support them.
If you have time to give—give by volunteering on projects or at events; if you have a little extra money to give—donate to the organizations whose values reflect your own.
It’s clear that many of you are already on it. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a nonprofit organization that advocates for access to and conservation of public land, water, and wildlife and its membership has doubled in size nationally every year for the past six years. If you want to sign on to Backcountry Hunters & Anglers’ Public Waters Access Pledge you can do so HERE.
Time spent afield or on the water is transformative in so many ways. If we can transform more Coloradans into conservationists, our fish, wildlife, and wild places are more likely to be protected into the future. Share the excitement and satisfaction of fishing, hunting, or exploring the outdoors with someone who is new to the activity and they’ll likely never forget it, just as you surely remember and appreciate those who introduced you to fishing or hunting however long ago. You could even win a prize from Colorado Parks and Wildlife for taking a friend along with you (link). If you aren’t ready to be a mentor however, you can tell those with an interest in fishing about Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s free fishing events and seminars (link).
Even though Colorado is not known to have the best stream access laws in the west, we are doing some things right. Interest in fishing in Colorado is growing; we have elected officials at many levels who love the outdoors and value fish, wildlife, and wild places; the state is investing in fishing access projects and in improving outdoor recreation opportunities on state land; and the fishing community in Colorado continues to demonstrate its commitment to the resources it relies on and continues to educate all who will listen. The more people who recognize and value the connection between our quality of life and our access to healthy wild places, fish, and wildlife, the better off we will all be.
Liz Rose spent 2019 learning about Colorado state trust land management and access policies through a master’s project and volunteer position with the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. She started 2020 by fly fishing, eating, and hiking in Argentina then going to work for Trout Unlimited in Wyoming.
1 Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The 2019 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. Retrieved from https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Trails/SCORP/Final-Plan/2019-SCORP-Report.pdf
2 Blevins, Jason. (5 June 2016). Colorado emerging as a national leader in developing a recreational-based economy. The Denver Post. Retrieved from https://www.denverpost.com/2016/06/05/after-languishing-at-the-political-kids-table-outdoor-recreation-emerges-as-a-key-driver-of-the-u-s-economy/
3 Birkeland, Bente. (1 Nov 2019). Polis Makes His 2020 Budget Pitch: More Cash For Preschool, Road Needs And Colorado Parks. CPR News. Retrieved from https://www.cpr.org/2019/11/01/polis-makes-his-2020-budget-pitch-more-cash-for-preschool-road-needs-and-colorado-parks/
5 Webster, Brien. (29 Aug 2019). Colorado Chapter Celebrates New Hunting Grounds. Retrieved from https://www.backcountryhunters.org/pap_expansion_is_live