Merger of state wildlife, parks agencies could cost Colorado in the long run
By John Mumma
Editor’s note: Legislation, backed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, that would merge the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado State Parks into one agency passed its first hurdle in a state Senate committee Thursday.
For decades the Colorado Division of Wildlife has been recognized as a leader in wildlife and fishery management in the United States. It consistently receives that recognition from member states of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, as well as national conservation, wildlife and fishery organizations.
These recognitions are the direct result of having top-notch professional employees dedicated to their life-long work. Their hard-earned efforts have made the Colorado Division of Wildlife the envy of all other state wildlife and fish agencies. I could list the many innovative programs they are involved with in research, law enforcement, public relations, management, non game, big game, fisheries, habitat and technical resource mapping. However, there are far too many to include here.
Well over 70 years ago America’s outdoor hunters and anglers worked diligently at the national level to pass a landmark piece of legislation called Pittman-Robertson, which enabled the individual states to receive revenue from the sale of certain outdoor products. Pitman-Robertson was signed into law in 1937 by President Franklin Roosevelt. This was followed by two additional pieces of national legislation, referred to as Dingell-Johnson and Wallop-Breaux, regarding the sale of fishing products. The revenue from all three pieces of legislation have provided significant funds to every state game and fish department. It’s significant to emphasize that these funds are not typical tax funds collected at the state level.
Many citizens of Colorado are unaware that their tax dollars aren’t used to finance the Division of Wildlife. What does finance Colorado’s wildlife and fish programs is the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. So, the users and supporters of these great programs provide for the revenue and enjoy the benefits.
In Colorado, the combined revenue received from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 from the federal funding programs mentioned above was close to $21 million. The sale of hunting and fishing licenses in Colorado approximates $74 million annually.
There are some very specific requirements attached to the federal funds and they are intended to keep state legislators from dipping into them for other purposes. When the Pittman-Robertson law was passed, in order to receive the federal funds, each state legislature had to agree not to spend the funds on anything except wildlife and fish programs. Colorado agreed to do just that.
When times are economically tough, it’s human nature for state legislators to look elsewhere for funds to pay for favored programs. To do so carelessly, however, brings with it a possible “diversion of funds” under federal law. To be found in diversion means that a state will lose the federal funds to assist managing its wildlife and fish programs.
In the mid-1990’s, our neighbor to the east, Kansas, was found to be in diversion for using wildlife funds to pay for improvements to a state park. Kansas had a combined wildlife and parks agency, as Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing for Colorado now. There is a very fine line one must walk to avoid a diversion-of-funds violation.
The proposed merger of the Division of Wildlife and the State Parks Division should be placed on the back burner and eventually dropped from consideration. A careful review of all of the costs, alleged savings, effectiveness of programs and consequences should undergo strict analysis. A rush to judgment will have dire ramifications to the future of Colorado’s magnificent wildlife and fish.
John Mumma was the Director of Colorado Division of Wildlife from 1995 to 2000. During his tenure, the DOW was recognized as the best state wildlife agency by the Association of Wildlife and Fish Agencies and Mumma was recognized as the outstanding director. He lives at Electra Lake, Colo., near Silverton.