5 Animals Who Are Thriving in Colorado
It’s probably no surprise that hunting and fishing are big business in Colorado, generating $2.8 billion in revenues per year and supporting more than 27,000 jobs in rural communities around the state. What might not be as obvious is where the fees from all those hunting and fishing licenses go: they’re the primary source of funding for wildlife and habitat conservation efforts around the state.
It’s those hunting and fishing license fees — not tax dollars — that are funneled directly into maintaining the stupendous biodiversity (more than 960 species at last count) and wide-open spaces that matter most to Coloradans.
Hunting and fishing fees also pay for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s nationally recognized research team, which has been responsible for some of the most spectacular conservation efforts in state history.
Here’s a look at five species that only exist — and thrive — in Colorado because of conservation efforts funded by hunting and fishing license fees.
1. Canada Lynx
By the late 1970s, this shy, elusive cat had been completely eliminated from Colorado. Its reintroduction is one of the most ambitious and high-profile success stories to date as, starting in 1999, conservationists released captured Canadian and Alaskan lynx back into Colorado’s San Juan mountains. By 2010, the program was deemed a success, and today, an estimated 150-250 of the tufted-eared cats now roam Colorado’s backcountry.
2. Cutthroat Trout
Anglers around the country prize the cutthroat trout for its bright, vibrant colors and energetic fighting ability. However, its population in the western states has been declining for decades. But, thanks to funding from Colorado hunting and fishing fees, government and conservation agencies were able to stock more than 1.6 million cutthroat trout in more than 400 lakes and streams around the state — in just one year.
3. Shiras Moose
These massive, majestic animals can weigh up to half a ton and stand more than six feet tall at the shoulder, but that didn’t keep their population from declining to almost nothing in the 20th century. What ultimately saved the moose was a careful conservation and reintroduction campaign by Colorado Parks and Wildlife starting in 1978. By the late 2010s, Colorado was once again home to a thriving population of more than 2,400 moose, making them one of the state’s biggest conservation successes.
4. Rocky Mountain Elk
Of all the animals in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain elk may be the most iconic. But by the early 1900s, they were nearing extinction, with only 40,000 remaining in all of North America. Through research, habitat protection and careful management, a consortium made up of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other sportsmen’s groups were able to nurture a population of just 50 animals (imported in 1916) into what’s now the largest elk population in the world, numbering more than 280,000 animals.
5. Bighorn Sheep
Like elk, the bighorn sheep was almost extinct by the early 1900s due to unregulated harvesting and introduced diseases. Decades of careful effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in cooperation with the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, nursed a small population of 100 transplants back into to a healthy population of about 7,000 sheep statewide, drawing visitors and locals alike to marvel at their majesty and agility.
These remarkable conservation successes are part of what make hunting and fishing two of the most unique recreational activities in the world. Even if you don’t choose to participate, you still benefit directly from the license fees that go straight into protecting Colorado’s wildlife populations and habitat, which in turn means opportunities to see beautiful wildlife.