DENVER Hunters and anglers greeted a proposed merger of the state parks and wildlife divisions with mixed reactions Thursday.
Fees from hunting and fishing licenses pay for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and some of that money will be needed in the short term for wildlife management at state parks, said Mike King, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which oversees both agencies.
King wants to combine the two divisions because their mission and personnel often overlap, and the state is trying to save money during a historic budget crisis, he told about 40 leaders of wildlife groups Thursday at the Legislatures Sportsmens Caucus.
The Band-Aids are gone. We need to bite the bullet and make sure we do what we can to maintain these areas for hunters and anglers in the short term, King said.
The State Parks Division goes into the merger as the weaker partner. It relies on taxpayer funding that is no longer available, and without a new plan, some state parks would have to close.
The division of wildlife is doing better, thanks to its funding by hunting and fishing licenses and federal grants for wildlife management. Hunters and fishers often feel protective of the division of wildlife, and some of them expressed skepticism Thursday that the merger would be good for wildlife.
What are the savings? What are the costs? said Bob Hix of Pheasants Forever. Right now, I have no opinion either way because I just dont have the facts.
Others in the audience said the merger is a good idea thats long overdue.
King thinks the merger could allow the state to cut 25 to 50 jobs through natural attrition, not layoffs, in addition to other savings on vehicles and overtime. It would create a one-stop shop for sportsmen and park users who would be able to get off-road vehicle permits and fishing licenses at the same place, he said.
Federal law places strict limits on how wildlife money can be used, and King said his department would be diligent about keeping parks and wildlife money separate.
But some money from hunting and fishing licenses will have to prop up the parks division in the short term to pay for wildlife management at the parks, King said.
The merger will help hunters solve one of the sports biggest problems, the dwindling numbers of people who hunt and fish, King said.
The state allows hunting or fishing at 36 of the 42 state parks, and the parks can serve as a gateway to get new and young people into hunting and fishing, King said.
Its hard to take a five-year-old pheasant hunting, but you can sure take them down to the docks and give them the opportunity to catch crappie, King said.
A park like Lone Mesa, north of Dolores, already functions more like a wildlife area, and it should benefit from the merger, King said.
Todd Malmsbury of the Colorado Wildlife Federation told King that sportsmen need genuine input into the consolidation.
The focus of wildlife management must remain undiminished in this merger, Malmsbury said.
Legislators plan to pass a bill that would combine the boards that oversee the parks and wildlife divisions. If it passes, the new board would work out details of the merger and bring it back to the Legislature for approval in 2012.
Reach Joe Hanel at email@example.com.