Stamped out
Habitat Stamp requirement phased out at Dry Fork

SideStory: Seasonal closures still in effect

A small herd of elk searches for forage just outside Durango city limits. Hikers and mountain bikers en route to the Dry Fork Trail will no longer be required to buy the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Habitat Stamp, which is being revamped by the ColoradoLegislature./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Will Sands

Durangoans can once again ride and hike one of the region’s most popular trails fee-free this spring. Mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders are no longer required to pay for use of the Dry Fork trailhead.

Beginning in 2006, users were required to carry a Colorado Division of Wildlife Habitat Stamp when accessing the Dry Fork Loop from the south side. Considered one of the area’s finest stretches of singletrack, the Dry Fork is located northwest of Durango. Containing a small chunk of the Colorado Trail, it is sited entirely on national forest and is especially popular with the cycling community.

Though users can access Dry Fork from the Colorado Trail’s Junction Creek trailhead, many opt for the parking lot at the trail’s south side in the vicinity of Lightner Creek. In 2006, that more popular trailhead started carrying a price. At that time, all users of Colorado State Wildlife areas were forced to buy a “Colorado Wildlife Habitat Stamp.” The stamp cost $10 per year or was included in the price of a hunting or fishing license, with proceeds going to purchase crucial wildlife habitat all over the state. In the case of the Dry Fork, a portion of the access road and the trail’s parking lot are within the Perins Peak SWA. Violations of the rule at Perins, Bodo or other state wildlife areas carried a $68 fine.

That era ended this year, however, explained Joe Lewandowski, public information specialist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Southwest Region. Hunting and fishing licenses will continue to carry an extra fee for wildlife habitat. However, the Habitat Stamp has been discontinued for other users for several reasons.

“The stamp was always a bit of a rub with nonhunters and mountain bikers,” he said. “It also became a bit of a mess for the Division of Wildlife. First, it was difficult to enforce. We also learned last yea,r that we can’t charge a fee for people to go into state wildlife areas if we’re already receiving federal funds for those areas.”

As a result, the Colorado Legislature is in the process of revamping the Habitat Stamp program. State Sens. Jim Isgar and Dan Gibbs are sponsoring Senate Bill 235, which will overhaul a program they deem a general success.

Lewandowski noted that the Habitat Stamp has raised more than $10 million since its inception. That money has been leveraged into $38 million and used to purchase 35,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Colorado. The lion’s share of that funding came from hunters and anglers, with roughly $65,000 contributed from nonsportsmen during each of the stamp’s first years.

“The biggest thing we were trying to do was raise funds to purchase conservation easements in critical habitat areas,” Lewandowski said. “That’s worked out really well. We’ve been able to move quickly and put together some incredible purchases.”

Among the easements purchased in the region are large tracts in San Miguel County, the San Luis Valley as well as vital habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse. The Isgar and Gibbs bill hopes to continue this track record while shifting the burden onto the hunters and anglers who benefit most directly from the acquisitions.

“We worked really hard with Senators Isgar and Gibbs to write this bill over about six months in order to come up with something that will be functional,” Lewandowski said.

Included in the bill will be an option for nonhunters and anglers to make a $25 voluntary donation. And though the original Habitat Stamp has never garnered huge support from hikers and mountain bikers, Lewandowski argued that conserving wildlife habitat should be everyone’s responsibility. He noted that people who purchase hunting and fishing licenses have footed the bill for all Colorado wildlife management for a century. Other members of the public who enjoy the benefits should not flinch from coughing up a few dollars.

“If we want wildlife and wildlife habitat, we need people to step up and offer some support,” Lewandowski said, adding that the Division of Wildlife is optimistic that the Isgar/Gibbs bill pass and be signed into law. •