Merger of agencies can aid all who value Colorado outdoors

By Sen. Gail Schwartz and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg

Talking about making government more efficient is easy. Who in any political party or interest group doesn’t want a more efficient government? Doing anything about it is something else.

With Senate Bill 208, which would merge the State Parks Division and Division of Wildlife, we seek to get beyond talk to action.

Unlike a lot of the ideas around trimming government spending — painful steps like cutting school budgets and social safety nets or asking more of taxpaying businesses and individuals — this is a move that can ease government expenses over time while continuing to fulfill the important missions at hand: protecting and managing wildlife and providing Coloradans with varied access to our state’s uniquely beautiful outdoors.

Joining these agencies will allow us to ensure protections of parks and wildlife in an unprecedented time of budget constraints. We see the need for this kind of effort stretching from our nation’s capital to the local school board. It can’t always be someone else’s job. Sometimes it must be ours.

We believe the missions of our parks and wildlife agencies are a natural fit for Coloradans and for the dedicated staff who carry them out daily. Visitors to parks, forests and wilderness areas share a common bond with the outdoors. Hunters on a quest for game, boaters enjoying the lake or backpackers trekking in deep woods are all nourished by nature’s touch and united in a desire to conserve wild spaces and the creatures that reside there.

Combining the employees, management, equipment, real estate, information systems and other assets of our parks and wildlife systems will undoubtedly result in more efficient administration. Some examples: We have parks and state wildlife areas adjacent to one another. Does it always require separate staff members to travel to and work on separate sites? Each agency has its own fleet of heavy equipment. Is that necessary?

We can surely find ways to streamline work common to both — accounting, budget and purchasing for example.

Both agencies employ top flight personnel — the most valuable assets of all. They are high-achieving, creative and adaptable. There are opportunities where it makes sense to broaden their roles. Can a park manager assist on wildlife during big game season? Can a wildlife officer assist with hunting and fishing activities at a state park? Can the devoted volunteers provide their invaluable efforts in more varied ways? We — and they — think so.

We know each of these divisions has a loyal constituency and proud employees. We honor that and respect that within those groups, some see different interests.

We understand concerns that somehow dollars set aside for wildlife management would be directed away from those areas. They will not. The united division will budget in a transparent way. Interested parties, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will see that dollars are spent in a responsible manner and in compliance with the law.

We see this action as in the long-term interests of both divisions. Our state park system — like those in states across the country — has no doubt suffered along with our state budget. But wildlife management faces challenges, too. Times are fast-changing in our country. Hunters and anglers will be recruited from urban areas in the future. Parks bring more people into the outdoors and can foster greater interest in activities that include fishing and hunting. Advocates for parks and wildlife can work together in the common support of both.

We believe there is harmony in this action. Consider: People take different equipment into the outdoors — binoculars, a rifle, a backpack, a journal. Whatever they carry, they venture to forests, to parks, to wilderness, to water with an appreciation for the calm of nature and for the bounty it provides — be it quietude, a food supply, a bird sighting or just a relaxing float with friends. Those visiting these places are joined in their wish to conserve and protect these opportunities. We join them in that interest.

Sen. Gail Schwartz is a Democrat from Snowmass Village. Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg is a Republican from Sterling. They are the cosponsors of Senate Bill 208.


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