The weather is getting cooler and aspen trees that only a few days ago were a brilliant orange, yellow and red are now beginning to blanket the mountainsides with a golden layer of their fallen leaves. Mountain peaks are covered with fresh snow, baseball playoffs are just beginning and football seasons are in full swing - the classic signs that fall has arrived.Another clear sign of the change of seasons is the sight of excited men and women wearing camo clothing and blaze-orange hats and vests towing all-terrain vehicles behind 4x4 trucks, all signs that the major hunting seasons begin today.Nearly 250,000 hunters in all - most from Colorado, but many from out of state - will take part in this yearly tradition. Many will make Summit County their destination, arriving in vehicles loaded down with hunting gear, wallets filled with cash and dreams of a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime hunting adventure.Some have waited patiently for many years to draw a high-quality elk license and are making their first trip to the state. For others, a Colorado hunt is their annual vacation that they have enjoyed for years - reacquainting with old friends, or bonding with their tight-knit families.As a wildlife officer, a hunter and a resident of Summit County, I am thankful that I live in a place that is popular with hunters. Not only for the economic boost they provide to our local economy, but also for the funds they generate for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the agency I work for; the agency responsible for managing the state's abundant wildlife.Because the waning trickle of summer recreationalists will soon dry-up and we are weeks away from the height of ski season, the financial impact generated by hunters during October and November is critical for our economy. Hunters spend thousands of dollars at our gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and hotels. Their dollars create hundreds of direct jobs, and perhaps thousands of indirect jobs.Keep in mind that a non-resident bull elk license costs almost $600. Then add in the hundreds of dollars on gas, food, ATV registrations, camping equipment, ammunition, room and board, transportation, and then multiply that by thousand of hunters. The economic windfall to our area is enormous.A 2008 study prepared by BBC Research & Consulting for Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows hunters and anglers spending over $1.5 billion in Colorado in 2007.However, in addition to the boost for our local economy, the financial benefit to our wildlife is what is most important to me. Almost every component of managing wildlife and habitat in Colorado - from putting fish in Dillon Reservoir, trapping and relocating bears, radio collaring bighorn sheep, tracking and monitoring lynx, picking up injured raptors for rehabilitation, counting boreal toads, answering phones at our offices, habitat improvement projects, etc. - are almost exclusively paid for by that woman with the 4x4 and the ATV, or the man in camo clothing and blaze-orange vest and hat, or that angler casting his rod into our local waters.Because Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives no direct taxpayer funds, without the millions in revenue generated from the sale of licenses and sporting goods, it would be almost impossible to maintain the abundant wildlife populations that we all currently enjoy.Far too often, I have heard people make negative comments about hunters. Perhaps even you have made a disparaging comment or two, however I ask that the next time you are tempted to make a less-than-friendly comment directed at the camo-clad individual in that big truck, keep in mind just how much hunters do for our wildlife and its natural habitat. I assure you that it is far beyond what they are given credit for by their critics. As part of my duties as a wildlife officer, I have had the pleasure of meeting many hunters in Summit County during my 10-year career. The majority are in fact very down-to-earth, polite and responsible wildlife conservationists. In fact, many of the hunters I encounter have much more respect for Colorado's wildlife and habitat than some of their harshest critics.A recent TV campaign in Colorado from The Wildlife Council features a hiker enjoying a trek in Colorado's pristine backcountry, lost in his thoughts as he traverses a veritable paradise. As the camera follows, we watch the hiker suddenly run up to a gentleman carrying a rifle and wearing a blaze-orange vest, and hug him.It was a perfect statement, visually making my point better than I can with just a few words on this page. So, if you enjoy your wildlife, the next time you meet a hunter you might just want to give them great big hug, or maybe a pat on the back is more your style. Either way, just take a little time to thank them for what they do for our economy, and be very grateful for all they do for our wildlife.I know I am.Shannon Schwab has served as a wildlife officer in Summit County since 2003. She loves everything about working and playing in Summit County - hunting, hiking, trail running, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, working with wildlife and the people that live here.
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