DENVER Senators moved forward with a proposal to merge the state divisions of wildlife and parks Thursday, although two retired chiefs of those agencies warned them to slow down.
The proposed merger is the most tangible piece of Gov. John Hickenloopers promise to make government more efficient. Mike King, the Hickenlooper cabinet member who oversees both agencies, floated the plan in early March.
I think that we owe it to the people of this state to demonstrate that were serious that were going to change the way government does business, King said Thursday in testimony to the Senate Agriculture Committee.
The panel voted 7-0 in favor of Senate Bill 208, which sets the stage for the merger by combining the citizen boards that oversee wildlife and state parks.
The bill is moving quickly. It was introduced just Tuesday.
The combined agency will have about 880 employees, with overlap in at least 25 positions, King said. In addition to duplicate personnel, the agencies have similar missions and own similar pieces of land, he said.
King pointed to Southwest Colorados Lone Mesa State Park, whose 12,000 remote acres make it prime elk habitat.
Thats currently a state park. It might make more sense as a state wildlife area, King said.
King pledged to protect money set aside for wildlife from hunting licenses and the federal government. If wildlife money is used for parks, it could put at risk $12 million in federal funds.
Retired division of wildlife Director Bruce McCloskey said he felt more comfortable with the merger now than he did two weeks ago, but he urged legislators to slow down.
The speed at which this merger is being implemented is mind-boggling. McCloskey said.
The need to protect wildlife dollars from diversion to parks is serious, McCloskey said. Colorado had a combined wildlife and parks department in the 1960s, and federal audits were still turning up problems with it in the 1990s.
It is a matter of doing it absolutely squeaky-clean, above-board, in the light of day, right from Day One or pay the consequences down the road, McCloskey said.
Lyle Laverty, a former director of the parks division, said he agreed that some overlap exists with the division of wildlife.
I think there are a number of potential savings, but Im not sure in my own mind it requires a merger, Laverty said.
Hunting and angling activists are divided on the idea. People from the Colorado Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Bowhunters Association questioned the need for a merger, while an official with the Colorado Mule Deer Association and members of the governor-appointed parks and wildlife boards supported it.
Thursdays vote sends SB 208 to the full Senate.
Reach Joe Hanel at email@example.com.