Colorado mulls merger of parks, wildlife agencies

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenMarch 10, 2011
Staring down a $1.1 billion shortfall for next fiscal year, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to merge the Colorado Division of Wildlife with Colorado State Parks to save money.

The governor says that streamlining the two agencies, overseen by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, would lead to more efficient government and improved customer service.

Gov. John Hickenlooper in Yuma.

“The Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado State Parks are well thought of and have strong relationships in the communities they serve,” Hickenlooper said Thursday. “Both agencies will find synergy in the merger. What will make this successful is people’s will to make it successful.”

Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling and Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen will introduce a bill next week to combine the two agencies by July 1. A second bill will be introduced in 2012 to address more specific measures necessary for the new division to implement its programs.

The state's wildlife agency employs 650 people and the parks agency employees about 250. Officials said that no one will be laid off but positions will be eliminated through attrition.

Gary Butterworth, chairman of the Colorado State Parks Board, said "a partnership seems appropriate. ... We will approach this challenge with an open mind and a desire to respect the history of both divisions.”

Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the consolidation is right for the state at a time when government is striving to serve citizens more efficiently and effectively.

“There is hunting in 32 State Parks and 39 State Parks offer fishing,” King said. “There are many overlaps. This will allow parks to stay vibrant and provide many other kinds of outdoor recreation.”

State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, will carry a bill allowing for the consolidation.

The move is part of Hickenlooper's broader mission to cut government expenses. He is also merging into one the jobs done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's executive director and the state's chief medical officer. Hickenlooper is also asking that Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia also serve as the Colorado Department of Higher Education's executive director.

Several other states operate combined parks and wildlife agencies, including Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas. Washington and Oregon also are reportedly in the process of combining their wildlife and parks programs.

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