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In a wide-ranging conversation this week with Bill Canterbury, president of the Colorado Outfitters Association, he revealed his concerns about Chaffee County’s contested outfitter facilities definitions. He is also a chairperson of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, working directly with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the state level.

“I’ll tell you what I really think – I got a whole lot of questions for Chaffee County on this outfitter thing. We need answers out here, not excuses.”

Two public hearings are scheduled to discuss a proposed amendment regarding Chaffee County Land Use Code Article 15: Definitions. Specifically, the amendment would change the definition of “outfitting facility” a change opposed by Chaffee County Planning and Zoning staff. The first public hearing was at the April 24 before the Chaffee County Planning Commission regular meeting. This will be followed by a 9:15 a.m. public hearing on May 8 before county commissioners. Both sessions will be held in the commissioners room at 104 Crestone Ave., Salida.

Canterbury is a professional outfitter who supports Colorado statutes on outfitting. He said he is concerned that Chaffee County commissioners are against Salida resident Dave Moore’s proposed text amendment to adopt Colorado’s definition of “outfitter” and “outfitting services.”

He questioned whether staff fully understands the state’s landowner voucher arrangement that gives agricultural landowners the right to charge a fee allowing guests to use their land to hunt, fish or recreate. Canterbury wants county residents to understand the importance of hunting income to ranchers.

“Ranchers are allowed by state law to charge a trespassing fee, allowing hunting, fishing or recreation access. It’s an important margin that helps keeps them on the ranch. It can be the difference of making (a profit during)the year or not.”

Canterbury said he is concerned that the county’s current interpretation of outfitting, which seems to include ranchers who accept a fee for renting hunting cabins on their land, is too vague. “The folks who want permission to hunt, they come in, sit down, have a cup of coffee; the rancher takes them out and shows them the property. Is that guiding? They’re in a permanent structure, they rent ranch cabins that are permanent structures. Apparently its the outfitting structures that make us in violation.”

Canterbury believes that under the county’s current (land use or outfitter) definitions, anyone could file a complaint if they don’t approve of the activity, such as hunting, and that if citations were issued, the land owner or hunters would have to go to court to contest them. 

“Are they going to explain to every land user in the county how they have to become compliant?” Canterbury asked. “Landowners are telling me they’re afraid to go ask. They don’t want to get aimed at.

“If a neighbor has a grudge, they can just report you, and if they’re environmentalists who don’t like hunting, they can come after us and get the rancher reported and in trouble.”

Canterbury says he’s worried the agricultural community won’t speak up. “I’ve got outfitters afraid to go to the meetings because they don’t know if they’re in compliance or not and they’re going to lay low and see what happens. It’s the same with the agricultural community – almost every rancher has a hunter or two, or they have someone camping for the summer or riding horseback out there.”

The agricultural community, says Canterbury, deserves to know where they stand. “Are ranchers who allow groups led by professional outfitters, who lease ranch land and bring guests who stay in permanent structures, outfitting facilities?”

Canterbury said the implications go beyond hunting. “Take the bicyclists, the river rafters … what if you invite a friend over and they use your raft and you set up under an awning of a permanent structure. Is that guiding? I don’t think so.

“As we see it here, the law will be applied unequally and with retribution. So a rancher who lets folks hunt – lets them change in and out of hunting gear there — they may go after. But the rancher down the road lets folks fish there, and they’re okay with that and don’t go after him.”

The current definition of outfitting facilities defines this as the improved structures and facilities related to guiding services for outdoor expeditions, including fishing, camping, biking, motorized recreation and similar.

Canterbury says this focus on facilities is confusing. “This really bothers me – this isn’t just a permitting system and you go buy a license. I have hunters come in who stay in bed and breakfasts outside the city. Are they, or am I, out of compliance because I’m taking that guy out hunting from a permanent structure somewhere out in Chaffee County?”

According to Canterbury, the state code does a good job of defining outfitting. “It’s clear. I hate to see counties taking on different regulations from the state in defining what outfitting is – it’s going to cause all kinds of problems.”