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‘Hunters, anglers lost an ally by opposing my confirmation’

I recently resigned from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission in the face of opposition from hunting, outfitting and livestock producer groups. The opposition to my confirmation provides an interesting look at the past and the future of wildlife management and hunting in Colorado.

The commission oversees policy for our state parks and wildlife agency, and creates regulations to manage wildlife and lands. It was clear that the state Senate would not confirm my appointment by Gov. Jared Polis because of the interest groups opposing me. I concluded that pushing to the vote would do more harm than good to CPW.

I’ve been a hunter and angler all my life, and a career wildlife biologist; I served the Division of Wildlife for nearly 24 years. Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife management, is one of my heroes. He was ahead of his time in understanding the ecological basis of wildlife management. Leopold was a lifelong hunter, and his views on wildlife management evolved, leading to his appreciation of all wildlife species, not just those we hunt or fish for. I share his views.

Unfortunately, some in the hunting community do not share Leopold’s views. They see little or no value in threatened and endangered species or nongame animals, and believe wildlife agencies should focus all their resources on the game species that they hunt. They see hunters like me, who embrace hunting and broader values of wildlife, as insufficiently supportive of our hunting and angling heritage.

The restoration of wolves to Colorado, which I support, is another issue. Some hunters, outfitters and ranchers are adamantly opposed to wolf restoration and, thus, they opposed my appointment. That was a mistake, and here’s why.

Colorado values about wildlife are changing dramatically, and opposition to CPW candidates who have a more inclusive view of public wildlife resources is shortsighted and self-defeating. We all know that because of urbanization, demographic and economic factors, hunter numbers have been declining and will continue to decline. In fact, less than 6.3% of Coloradans are hunters.

As a result, the influence of the hunting community is diminishing. That’s a reality, which I urge hunters and outfitters to understand, and work constructively to maintain public support for our hunting traditions.

Since my appointment by the governor in July 2023, some of my opponents have wrongly suggested that I supported an alternative wolf management plan proposed by WildEarth Guardians, when I served on CPW’s Wolf Stakeholder Advisory Group. Those members were appointed by CPW to provide recommendations for the wolf management plan to implement wolf restoration as required by the passage of Proposition 114 in November 2020. The SAG was composed of hunters, outfitters, wolf advocates, livestock producers and others, and met over 18 months to create a consensus report to the agency.

Several SAG members opposed my confirmation, claiming I supported the alternative plan. I never supported the WildEarth Guardian plan as it undermined the CPW planning process.

In my Senate Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee confirmation hearing, I was treated rudely and disrespectfully. CPW commissioners are volunteers who contribute thousands of hours to manage and improve the state’s wildlife, state parks and outdoor recreation opportunities. Thus, the behavior of some senators was particularly outrageous.

Wildlife management requires hunting and angling as management tools, and for the recreational benefits they provide. Hunting will continue in Colorado as will attempts to restrict it. The commission must recognize those trends and rise to meet them; the hunting community should react constructively. Many hunters were so blinded by disinformation, they didn’t recognize they were attacking one of their strongest advocates.

It’s also unfortunate as it creates a negative image of hunters in the minds of the public.

Hunters and anglers have lost an ally on the commission by opposing my confirmation. Without champions who can bridge the gap between hunting interests and the changing attitudes toward wildlife in Colorado, hunters will become increasingly marginalized.

On a final note, some hunting and outfitting organizations opposed my appointment because of my advocacy for wolf restoration. Based on that standard, those hunters and outfitters would oppose the appointment of Aldo Leopold himself to our CPW commission.

We should give that some very hard thought.

Gary Skiba lives in Durango and was appointed to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission in July, and resigned March 7.