The Associated Press March 11, 2011, 10:54AM ET

Colorado state parks, wildlife agencies to merge

Legislation will be introduced soon to combine Colorado's wildlife and parks agencies as part of efforts to save money in the face of budget shortfalls, state officials said Thursday.

Gov. John Hickenlooper told the parks board and the Colorado Wildlife Commission Thursday that the two boards would also be merged in a move first announced earlier this week and aimed at saving millions of dollars annually. The two agencies in the Department of Natural Resources would become one July 1.

"This will be a challenge for us," Hickenlooper said in a joint meeting of the two boards. "What will make this successful is people's willingness to work together as we strive for effectiveness and ways to be more efficient."

Hickenlooper has said the state could save $3 million to $4 million a year by combining the boards and the 900 jobs. About 25 positions would be eliminated over the next two years, but Hickenlooper said employees could be used to help the department find other ways to save money.

Teams of employees from the wildlife and parks divisions will be asked to help shape the new organization. State officials said several other Western states, including Montana and South Dakota, have combined their parks and wildlife agencies.

The two agencies already have overlaps, state officials said. Colorado has 39 state parks that offer fishing while 32 offer hunting opportunities, said Mike King, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources.

Colorado State Parks has considered closing some sites and other ways to save money as state funding has dwindled. Dean Winstanley, parks director, said his staff will approach the changes with a positive attitude to serve park supporters and wildlife interests.

One of the challenges facing the agencies as they prepare to join forces is keeping some funds separate. Much of the Division of Wildlife's budget of about $110 million comes from hunting and fishing license revenue and fees. About $20 million are federal dollars generated by taxes on ammunition, hunting and fishing equipment and boating fuel.

Colorado could lose that money if it's used for something other than fish and wildlife management, research and hunting and fishing activities. Division of Wildlife spokesman Theo Stein said state officials are aware of the risk and will study other states' successful mergers of parks and wildlife operations.

This wouldn't be the first time the two divisions have been under one roof in Colorado. State parks joined with the Division of Wildlife's predecessor, the Games and Fish Department, in 1963, according to the book "Colorado's Wildlife Story," published by the wildlife agency. The two agencies were separated in 1972, a decision welcomed by hunters and anglers who worried that money from hunting and fishing had been spent on parks.


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