Agency merger worth a look, ex-wildlife commissioner says

A plan to merge the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation deserves a close look, a former Colorado wildlife commissioner said Thursday.

“I think that fundamentally and conceptually it’s a good idea,” said Tom Burke, a Grand Junction construction company owner and nine-year member of the Colorado Wildlife Commission.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, meanwhile, said consolidation of the agencies could be complete July 1. He spoke Thursday to the Wildlife Commisson and State Parks board.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, legislators and Mike King, the head of the Department of Natural Resources, which includes the agencies proposed for merger, introduced the idea this week.

A second bill that would change state statutes accordingly is anticipated to be introduced in January 2012. Teams of employees from the two agencies would be asked to help develop the new organizational structure, King said.

Such a combination, Burke said, “could be done without causing huge pain, unlike some of the other things” the state is considering for cuts.

Promises that the eventual merger of the departments overseen by the boards could result in the reduction of hundreds of jobs, however, should be treated with some skepticism, Burke said.

Burke said he’d be willing to serve on a transition team working to combine the agencies, but hasn’t been asked.

Merging the two divisions could provide opportunities for cross-training of wildlife managers and park rangers so they could work together during the busiest times, such as the big-game season, Burke said.

The most effective savings, however, would be at the highest levels of the agencies, as well as with fleet purchases and other high-price purchases, Burke said.

If the merger results in the reduction of hundreds of jobs, potentially affecting wildlife, sporting organizations will oppose the plan, Burke said.

The new agency will have to be careful to observe distinctions such as those that require certain federal funds to be used for wildlife and not for parks or other purposes, Burke said.

Colorado can look to several other states, including Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas, for tips on how best to operate joint wildlife and parks agencies.

Merger legislation is being carried by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who head the legislative committees that review the divisions.

Colorado’s state parks and wildlife programs were managed by a single agency in the 1960s and early 1970s, Hickenlooper noted.


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