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Western Public Lands

Western Voices: John Ellenberger


08/19/2011- As a young child, John Ellenberger was mesmerized by the all the lights during a visit to Denver from his hometown of Trinidad in southern Colorado. He marveled at hearing the area was home to about 400,000 people.

Decades later, the retired big game manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife marvels at predictions that the state’s population could double to roughly 9 million in 15 to 30 years.

``It’s going to be really difficult to have the same kind of experience and the same quality of experience outdoors as I did,’’ Ellenberger said. ``The issue will be trying to maintain wildlife and wildlife habitat in the face of tremendous amounts of people.’’

The Colorado native started as a game warden with the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1970, earned a degree in wildlife biology and retired as the state’s big game program manager in 2004. He shared his father’s passion for hunting and fishing and a teacher spurred his interest in studying biology.

Reading works by Aldo Leopold and other scientists and conservationists helped hone his environmental ethic, Ellenberger said.  And a lifetime of working in and enjoying the outdoors has left him concerned about the future of Colorado’s public lands and wildlife.  He and fellow retired Division of Wildlife biologist Gene Byrne recently completed a National Wildlife Federation report saying that roughly 30 years of data from Colorado and Wyoming show that mule deer and pronghorn populations are declining along the Wyoming-Colorado line.  The report calls for federal and state land managers to consider wildlife as they make decisions for the area, which is targeted for more oil, natural gas and wind-power development.

A loss of hunting opportunities will mean a drop in revenue for the state agencies charged with managing and safeguarding wildlife. Revenue from hunting and fishing licenses and fees finances the state wildlife agencies.

Hunting, angling and wildlife watching also generate about $2.5 billion yearly in direct and related revenue in Colorado, according to the Division of Wildlife.

``Colorado is blessed to have a lot of public lands,’’ Ellenberger said. ``About 37 percent of Colorado is in public ownership, and it’s fairly high quality habitat. We have this wildlife investment, this capital. I’d hate to see us lose it or degrade it.’’