Council taking neutral stance in limited elk licensing controversy

“The debate has become like the healthcare issue… full of emotion and misinformation”

Admitting that a letter from the town of Crested Butte might not have much impact, the Town Council agreed to send a letter to the state Wildlife Commission and Division of Wildlife asking them to find a compromise between local stockgrowers and area businesspeople over the elk license limitation controversy.



In February, the council sent a letter backing the proposal of the Gunnison Stockgrowers Association to limit elk licensing in Game Management Units 54, 55 and 551. A new letter states that since then, the council has received heated feedback from the business community asking the Town Council to rescind that support.
The new letter suggests that the goal of reducing the elk population proposed by the Stockgrowers Association is reasonable; however, “totally limiting elk hunting may have adverse economic impacts on the entire Gunnison Valley, including Crested Butte. So there may be alternatives to ‘total limited elk licensing’ that achieve the goal of reducing the elk population without adversely impacting our local economy.”
Crested Butte business owner Nick Danni from Mountain-Tops t-shirts and Shades of Crested Butte told the council Monday night that he spent the first half of his life on a ranch. “I appreciate the ranchers in the valley,” he said. “My opposition is to the proposal. Ten to 15 percent of my business is to hunters. Look at part of September and all of October and November and they account for a big part of my business. I don’t want to see fewer of them.”
Danni said the issue has drawn a lot of statewide attention and all four of the alternatives currently being considered now by the Wildlife Commission will reduce hunter numbers.
“We want the least impact,” he told the council, “reduce the elk population with the least impact on the economy.”
Stockgrowers Association president Sandy Guerrieri told the council this debate had qualities similar to the nationwide healthcare debate. “There is a lot of emotion and misinformation and special interests in the discussion,” she said. “Limited elk licensing is not necessarily limiting the number of people. It is limiting the number of bull licenses.”
DOW area wildlife manager J Wenum told the council the five-year plan being considered by the commission is meant to provide a “big picture” perspective to big game management. “It has become an extremely divisive issue,” he admitted.
Mayor Alan Bernholtz said the Town Council’s original letter sent in February didn’t seem to have any influence. “Believe it or not, we apparently aren’t the center of the universe up here in Crested Butte,” he said. “I’m not sure a new letter will have any weight whatsoever. But I hate to see this divisiveness. I think the amended letter drafted by Skip [Berkshire] is a good compromise and covers what we want to see happen.”
Doug Washburn, who made the original pitch for the Stockgrowers Association to the council, wasn’t in favor of the council sending a letter full of win-win platitudes. “I have a problem with the win-win situation mentioned in the letter,” said Washburn. “That indicated we haven’t been losing and we have been paying these dues with all these elk,” he said. “There needs to be some sacrifice from others to control the problem. We have already been hurt.”
“Does the alternative cited by Nick reach a middle ground?” asked Bernholtz.
“No,” responded Washburn. “I don’t think it does.”
“I think it is better to strike a balance,” said councilman Berkshire. “It’s a tough decision and I just want to move forward and don’t think there should be favor for one side over the other.”
“Every alternative being considered right now takes a cut so we as businesspeople will be hurt,” added Randy Clark, owner of Traders Rendezvous. “There will be fewer hunters no matter what, and we’ll all feel it.”
“It is clear to me that we were in way over our heads sending that first letter,” added Berkshire. “It’s a complicated issue with a lot of nuances. In this letter we are trying to say we agree with the goals but there are impacts. We ask the DOW to look to help preserve the ranching community, protect the economy and reduce the herds. Who can argue with those goals? This is motherhood (and apple pie) we’re sending to them in this letter.”
Bernholtz said the council simply acted too quickly in sending a letter of support for the Stockgrowers Association proposal. “This is an example of government moving too fast. There’s a reason it moves slow. We need to hear from everyone before making decisions.”
The council approved sending a revised official letter with a more compromising tone but took out the reference to “win-win” in the draft. To see the letter go to
The Wildlife Commission will make a decision on the new five-year plan on September 10.

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