Idea of Division of Wildlife merging with Colorado State Parks has both pros, cons

Unless you’ve been on a long vacation, you are aware the state is thisclose to merging the Division of Wildlife and the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, aka, Colorado State Parks.

Heaven forfend that this scribe would question the predetermined course of a well-greased sled that’s gaining speed every day, but, gee, what’s the hurry?

The plan to assimilate the two agencies into a single Division of Wild Parks and Commingled Budgets hasn’t pleased everyone with a vested interest in the state’s wildlife management.

But you wouldn’t know that from the hokum coming out of Denver. For the first couple of weeks after the introduction of the merger legislation, there was a lot of “Ain’t this a great idea?” coming from State Parks, the Governor’s office and the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees both agencies.

Nary a peep was heard from the men and women charged with protecting our state’s wildlife resources. That has changed, perhaps because someone high up in the DNR finally sent a message to the DOW, telling the agency to break out the smiley faces and start talking up the merger.

Still, many people outside the process still are trying to figure out why parks (emphasis recreation) should merge with the DOW (emphasis wildlife management).

Let me ‘splain a few of the pro-merger arguments this corner has heard:

“State Parks (annual budget about $60 million) is in danger of going broke and the merger will rescue it.”

Say what? For many years the Legislature has been weaning state parks from the general budget, demanding parks pay for itself through entry and use fees.

Is the parks agency getting a loan from the wildlife side?

Parks, like all other state agencies except the Division of Wildlife, hasn’t needed the Legislature’s permission to raise parks fees. The proposed legislation demands state parks come hat-in-hand to the Wizard of Oz-like state budget committees.

Higher fees to pay for failing parks? How many chances has a snowball in July? Supposedly the new agency will separate the parks’ budget from the DOW’s budget, currently around $100 million annually.

Greedy Legislators, unable to manage their own House and always eager to rob one fund for projects of self-interest, are ogling the DOW’s self-replenishing budget.

“If the merger doesn’t happen, four (or pick a number) state parks will have to close.”

I truly love the state’s park system so forgive me for being cynical — it’s genetic — but so what?

Some state parks were established as political paybacks, not prime recreational areas in need of rescue/management.

Of Colorado’s 42 state parks, how many can you name or have you ever visited?

Every day, financially adept businesses close “underperforming” stores that customers ignore; why should state parks be any different?

As much as I respect the men and women who manage our parks, that agency has never stood out for its budgetary acumen. Closing some of the heavily subsidized and under-utilized parks makes financial sense.

Here’s my fave: “Most Colorado state parks already offer hunting and fishing, and the parks make good recruiting grounds for folks who have never hunted or fished.”

This argument makes no sense. If you want to fish at a state park, you first have to purchase a state fishing license, which pays for raising and stocking the fish at state parks. Then, you have to purchase a state parks pass to fish for the fish you already paid for.

Ditto hunting at a state park.

And the folks you see at state parks who aren’t hunting or fishing likely aren’t interested in hunting or fishing or they’d already be hunting or fishing.

And on and on.

There are some former DOW employees saying the merger is being pushed by some strident DOW-bashing Legislators eager to get their kicks in while the kicking’s good.

Ignoring the expected paranoia common among people facing a major change in their life, there is some deal of truth in the claim. The DOW is perceived by many in the Legislature as being arrogant and a little too independent.

And it’s no secret there is a contingent of Legislators (from both sides of the aisle but predominately Republicans) who, for personal and political reasons, repeatedly attempt to rein in, derail or otherwise hobble the DOW and its management policies.

Legislators are a powerful and egoistic lot and their merger is riding the fast track.

Unless something totally unexpected happens (and in the world of politics you never can count that out), the merger is a done deal.

As one person close to the negotiations said, “The hole’s been dug, lie down and enjoy the view.”

Email Dave Buchanan at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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