Merger of wildlife, parks passes Senate panel

DENVER — A plan to merge the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation had little trouble clearing a Senate committee Thursday.

The measure, proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, is designed to streamline operations within the two agencies and save the state money.

Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which oversees both agencies, said opposition to the idea has focused on the different missions of the agencies and not on how their duties overlap.

“The public sentiment requires that we shrink government,” King said.

“What the lesson, and what we’re struggling with, is when the public says we want you to shrink government, they mean over there. It’s got to start somewhere.”

King said the state could save money, but exactly how much won’t be known for at least a year. He said it could reduce 25 positions almost immediately, which would be accomplished through attrition.

The merger would take place over several years. The measure, introduced by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, calls for the governing boards of the two divisions — the 11-member Colorado Wildlife Commission and the five-member Colorado State Parks Board — to join together July 1 and set a timeline for how the merger would take place. That includes creating a new 16-member Parks and Wildlife Board that would oversee the merged agencies.

“Some critics of this merger point to the different customers that we serve or even the different cultures of these two agencies,” said James Pribyl, a member of the parks board.

“The common responsibility that all board members of both boards share is stewardship … for the enjoyment of all of our citizens and all of our visitors.”

Opponents said there aren’t enough details in the bill directing the new board on how the agencies would merge or even if it should.

Lyle Laverty, former parks director under Republican Gov. Bill Owens and an assistant Interior Secretary under President George W. Bush, said the two agencies don’t have to merge to save the state money.

“There are truly winners, and there are losers, and there will be in this situation as well,” Laverty told the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, which approved the bill unanimously.

“It’s important to have the diligence in terms of understanding what those implications and costs are going to be, and weigh them against the benefits,” he said. “There are a number of potential savings, but I’m not sure in my own mind whether it requires a merger to achieve those savings and those efficiencies.”


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