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Legislation could merge Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado State Parks

The Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado State Parks would merge into a new agency under one board and one administration on July 1 under legislation that will soon be submitted to the General Assembly, Gov. John Hickenlooper told a joint meeting of the Colorado Wildlife Commission and the State Parks Board

Addressing the joint meeting in the Hunter Education building on the Division of Wildlife campus, the governor said the merger is part of his overall effort to make state government more effective and efficient. He recalled that in the 1960s and early 1970s, Colorado’s state parks and wildlife programs were once managed by a single agency.

“This will be a challenge for all of us,” Hickenlooper told the commission and board.? “What will make this successful is peoples’ willingness to work together as we strive for effectiveness and ways to be more efficient. We will need to find common paths, to bring questions and concerns to surface and to deal with them ways that provide assurances to employees while helping us avoid making cuts that would be very painful.”

The governor said he envisions a single agency that would support the gamut of wildlife and outdoor recreation opportunities, while also managing a suite of properties that offer everything from active recreation near population centers to hunting and fishing in less-developed areas.

“Our parks system provides an entry-level opportunity for our citizens to experience the outdoors,” Hickenlooper said. “If we don’t have that, we’re putting long-term support for wildlife at risk.”

Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King said the bill the administration will soon introduce would combine the Wildlife Commission and Parks Board and create the new agency by July 1. ?Senator Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling and Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen will sponsor legislation to authorize the consolidation.

A second bill that would make the necessary modifications to state statutes 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, he said.

“We’ve seen efforts before where outside consultants came in to tell us what the structure should look like,” King said. “We’ve already got the talent we need to do this in these two agencies. They know what values need to be preserved. We’re going to bring them together and ask them to chart the future.”?

Several other western states operate combined parks and wildlife agencies, including Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas. Washington and Oregon are also currently in the process of combining their wildlife and parks programs.? King said that 39 state parks offer fishing, while 32 offer hunting opportunities and that wildlife revenues can be directed to parks for expenditures that primarily benefit wildlife habitat, wildlife viewing or other wildlife-related pursuits.

Both the Wildlife Commission and the Parks Board said they applauded the governor’s decision to address the situation facing State Parks and pledged to work to build the new agency.

“During the recovery of economy nationwide, no issue is more challenging than the problems facing state local government,” said Parks Board member Bill Kane. “We stand ready and willing to do what we can to make a successful endeavor.”

Earlier in the meeting, Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington briefed the Wildlife Commissioners on the 2010 harvest statistics. Hunters harvested a total of 48,018 elk, up slightly from 2009. Last year, cow elk represented 54 percent of the harvest. About half of the bulls harvested were taken by hunters who bought over-the-counter licenses, rather than applying through the limited license draw.

“We continue to harvest more elk in Colorado every year than most other states have,” Remington said. In 2010, hunters harvested 12,301, topping the 12,000 mark for the first time. Remington said the harvest showed the division’s efforts to work with private landowners to increase hunting opportunity is paying off.

Deer harvest in 2010 was also up slightly. Hunters took a total of 34,768 deer in 2010. About half of the hunters during rifle seasons filled their tag, showing that Colorado continues to offer a tremendous opportunity for hunting quality mule deer, Remington said. ?He added that the deer population appears to be rebounding well from the harsh winter of 2007 and 2008.

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