Colorado Refunds Hunters $2.8 Million After Historic 2020 Wildfire Season

by Jennifer Shea
Arterra/Sven-Erik Arndt/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Colorado Parks and Wildlife issued more hunting license and tag refunds than it ever has last year. That was largely due to the historic wildfires that ravaged the state.

Under normal circumstances, hunters face strict limits on returns close to the season. They need a medical diagnosis, death in the family or jury duty to get one, Colorado Public Radio reports. 

But in 2020, both the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires coincided with hunting season. And there was the pandemic to consider. So CPW relaxed its restrictions and took a revenue hit of $2.8 million from refunds.

Colorado Accepts 12,000 Hunting Refunds

In an average year, the agency accepts around 8,000 tag and license returns. In 2020, CPW accepted more than 12,000 hunting refunds.

“It’s been a difficult year,” CPW’s Travis Duncan told CPR. “And we really had to focus on, from our leadership team, on being compassionate and supportive of our customers as they navigated the difficult times this year.”

In the aftermath of the 2020 wildfires, fire officials are now talking about “fire season” as a year-round problem, according to KOAA News5. So wildfires are likely to affect the 2021 hunting season, as well.

Meteorologist Sam Schreier told News5 that unless there’s a major snowfall in March or April, the current drought will continue. And dry conditions are made worse by invasive species like bark beetles, which are leaving large swaths of dead trees. 

“If you put all of the areas that burned in 2020 in one spot it would’ve burned all the way through Colorado Springs, surrounding towns, Fort Carson, and even a little further back into Teller County,” Schreier said. He said in 2020 the wildfires burned an area as big as the Pikes Peak region.

Moreover, forest management officials say population growth and the pandemic-related increase in outdoor recreation have created more opportunities for man-made fires.

“Our law enforcement officers had a saying and an observation that every day was like a weekend and weekends were like the 4th of July [last year],” Danny Bryant of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Regional Office said.

Refunds Offset By New Revenue

Fortunately for CPW, the increase in hunting refunds was offset by a $6.4 million jump in revenue. The rise came from new hunting and fishing license purchases in 2020. 

“We definitely had a big bump in folks getting outdoors,” Duncan told CPR. “Our state park visitation was record numbers this year and our hunting and fishing numbers were record numbers this year.”

The refunds may also be counterbalanced by new revenue. CPW is considering requiring a state wildlife area pass to set foot on state wildlife areas or trust lands. It will cost $46 annually.

The state already passed a new rule requiring that all adult visitors to state wildlife parks buy a hunting or fishing license. 

CPW officials say the new pass would help them pay for the increased use and damage to the parks from recreation not related to hunting and fishing.