Guv plans 2-agency combo to save cash

DENVER — Two Colorado Department of Natural Resources agencies will become one under a plan unveiled by Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislators Tuesday.

The plan to merge the Division of Wildlife with the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation is designed to save the state an unknown number of jobs and an undetermined amount of money.

To know exactly how much will take at least a year as the nine-member Colorado Wildlife Commission and the five-member Colorado State Parks Board iron out details of how the two agencies will be consolidated under a new banner: the Colorado Division of Parks, Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation.

“Their missions have a tremendous amount of overlap,” Mike King, DNR executive director, said of the two divisions his department oversees. “They provide recreational opportunity, they protect our lands, our habitat, our hunting and fishing opportunities. We felt this was one that consolidation made the most sense.”

The move means the state will scrap for now plans to “repurpose” four of the least-used state parks in Colorado and cut the state’s popular Aspen Leaf program for seniors, which offers a 50 percent discount in state park fees.

That plan, which was designed to save the state $3.3 million a year, called for turning the state parks — Paonia, Harvey Gap near Rifle, Schweitzer near Delta and Bonny Lake near Burlington — into wildlife areas and turning control of them over to the DOW.

Hickenlooper and King said the first step is to merge the two panels that oversee the agencies and create transition panels made up of managers and employees to hash out the details of how to consolidate operations of the divisions.

That process, which is expected to take at least a year, will range from reclassifying what positions will be needed to manage the new agency to how signs at the parks and wildlife areas should look.

King said the department hopes to eliminate 25 state jobs at the onset, which would be handled through attrition. Hundreds of other positions are expected to be eliminated as the merger is completed over the next several years.

Ultimately, the two men hope to save the state millions of dollars a year.

“There are so many baby boomers in our workforce, and they are going to be retiring in significant levels,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re estimating 7 percent each year. If you take 900 employees among the two agencies, 7 percent is 63 people. We have redundant talent. We’ll capture those savings.”

King said not consolidating the two agencies could lead to the outright closure of as many as 15 parks across the state, which would mean hundreds of layoffs.

The chairs of the House and Senate committees that review the two divisions, Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, are to carry the bills through the Legislature, which will be needed to make the consolidation possible.

“You want to talk about efficiency in government, this is the deck that makes it all happen,” Sonnenberg said. “When it comes to money, when it comes to agencies overlapping, there’s not a better two agencies to put together.”


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