CWF Update: Merger DOW and Parks

April 18, 2011

 Update April 18:  See Former Division of Wildlife Director John Mumma's Guest Commentary in today's Denver Post:

Guest Commentary: A shotgun wedding for DOW and State Parks?

By John W. Mumma
POSTED: 04/18/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT

Legislation recently introduced in the Colorado legislature proposes to merge 
the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) with Colorado State Parks. The alleged 
reason is to make government more efficient. But make no mistake about it — this 
is all about politics.
Senate Bill 208 was passed on a 7-0 vote a couple of weeks back with hardly any 
discussion or debate. Several former DOW directors and a State Parks director, 
as well as the major conservation community in Colorado, all spoke against 
moving this bill. But with the clear-cut vote and number of co-sponsors, it is 
apparent that midnight deals had been struck.
For decades, the DOW has been recognized as the leader in wildlife and fishery 
management in the United States. This is the direct result of having top-notch 
professional employees dedicated to their lifelong work. Their efforts have made 
the DOW the envy of all other state wildlife and fish agencies.
Well over 70 years ago, America's hunters and anglers worked diligently at the 
national level to pass a landmark piece of legislation called Pittman-Robertson 
(P-R), which enabled the individual states to receive revenue from the sale of 
certain outdoor products. The P-R bill was signed into law in 1937 by President 
Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It's noteworthy to emphasize that these funds are not typical tax funds 
collected at the state level. It's also significant to mention that hunting, 
fishing and bird watching are close to a $2 billion benefit that affects 
business up and down every main street in the state.
Many Coloradans are unaware that their tax dollars aren't used to finance the 
DOW. What does finance Colorado's wildlife and fish programs is the sale of 
hunting and fishing licenses. So, the user and supporter of these great programs 
provides for the revenue and enjoys the benefits.
In Colorado, the combined revenue received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service in 2010 was close to $21 million. The sale of hunting and fishing 
licenses in Colorado approximates $74 million annually. There are some very 
specific requirements attached to the federal funds and they are intended to 
keep state legislators from dipping into them for other purposes (like building 
prisons on wildlife lands).
When the P-R law was passed, in order to receive the federal funds, each state 
legislature had to agree not to spend the funds on anything except wildlife and 
fish programs. The Colorado legislature agreed to do just that. It seems the 
current legislature is bent on undoing the long-held agreement.
When times are economically tough, it's human nature for state legislators to 
look elsewhere for funds to pay for other programs. Such is the frequent case 
with State Parks. To use wildlife funds, however, creates a "diversion of 
funds." To be found "in diversion" results in the loss of federal funds to 
assist managing wildlife and fish programs.
Prior to the 1970s, when Colorado had a joint Parks and Wildlife agency, 
properties were purchased that created a diversion. The two agencies were 
separated by legislative action in 1972.
There are a number of reasons why this bill should not pass. Where are the 
studies to illustrate the savings (if any), the efficiencies, the improved 
services, the cost to the users and services that will be lost, the land-use 
changes, and impact on the agencies' personnel? There simply are no alternatives 
that show the pros and cons of such a marriage.
The proposed merger of these two state agencies should be placed on the back 
burner and eventually dropped from consideration. A rush to judgment will have 
dire ramifications to the future of Colorado's magnificent wildlife and fish.
Just say "no" to SB 208.
John W. Mumma was director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife from 1995 to 
2000. He lives near Durango.

Also Parks Board Director Laurie Matthews resigns:, as appeared in the Denver Post: 

"Dear Fellow Board Members:

It is with a very sad heart that I inform you of my resignation from the Colorado
State Parks Board today. 

As you know, I have been searching quite deeply to reconcile my grave concerns about
the proposed merger with my loyalty to State Parks and with the great time I have
had serving on the State Parks Board with all of you. It has been an honor to work
with each of you –- I have valued our interactions and friendships over the past few
years. 

Upon reflection, I find I simply do not have the confidence that the proposed merger
benefits either the outstanding and progressive mission of State Parks or the people
we serve. My concerns lie mostly with 1) the huge amount of work merging the
agencies entails, in exchange for very little benefit; and 2) my long term concern
that merging with a larger, resistant culture diminishes the focus on State Parks
now and well into the future.

Again, I have been honored to serve with each of you. I hope we find new ways to
work together in the future. I will miss you and the great works of Parks! 

Laurie"

 

 Also see column by Joe Hanel in today's Cortez Journal:    

Sportsman groups oppose DOW, state parks merger

 <mailto:joeh@cortezjournal.com> Joe Hanel
Journal Denver Bureau

DENVER - A proposal to combine the state parks and wildlife divisions is
nothing new. A similar idea was shot down seven years ago, and proponents
are counting on a new governor and quick action by the Legislature to push
through a merger this year.

The plan would combine one of the state's most imperiled agencies - the
parks division - with one of its most politically controversial - the
Division of Wildlife.

The two were combined 40 years ago, and the Legislature split them apart in
1972. But the state flubbed the breakup by assigning some lands that were
purchased with federal wildlife money to the parks division. 

The federal government keeps a strict watch over problems with "diversion,"
or the use of wildlife money for any other purpose. A federal audit of
Colorado turned up diversion problems 25 years after the break of the parks
and wildlife agencies.

The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation's staff studied a merger
proposal and recommended against it in a 2004 report.

"Vastly different missions, a lack of any efficiency savings, and the array
of federal diversion issues negate any real operational benefits. A merger
of the two divisions could repeat the problems of commingling funding
sources that was experienced forty years ago," the report concluded.

But this year is different, said Mike King, director of the Department of
Natural Resources. King's department oversees both the wildlife and parks
divisions, and he proposed the merger last month in order to save money and
increase the efficiency of both agencies.

"We're going to learn from our history," King said.

The problems the federal audit turned up in the 1990s were not "ticky tack
things," King said. They were bold violations, like using land bought with
federal wildlife dollars for a state prison. And they stemmed from the
breakup of the wildlife-parks agency, not its combination, he said.

The Division of Wildlife has always raised powerful emotions among both
hunters and lawmakers. 

Hunters and anglers feel protective of the DOW. With the exception of the
Colorado Mule Deer Association - a longtime DOW critic - Colorado's major
sportsmen's groups have come out against the merger.

The DOW is a large agency, with an $86 million budget and the equivalent of
631 employees, but it takes no state tax dollars because it relies on
federal funds and fees from hunting licenses. 

Non-residents pay $549.18 for an elk permit. Out-of-state big-game hunters
account for more than half the DOW's revenue, according to its 2011 budget.

Thanks to hunters, the DOW does not depend on legislators for its budget.
But several lawmakers cast a skeptical eye on the agency, including Rep.
Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who has oversight of the DOW from his post as
chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

"It's not that I dislike the DOW. I just want the DOW accountable. They have
been somewhat less than transparent. We don't know where some of that money
is going," Sonnenberg said.

Sonnenberg is especially watchful over the DOW's land purchases, which
sometimes take agricultural land out of production.

A merger would not send tax dollars to the DOW and bring it under tighter
financial control by the Legislature. But the new agency will get a new
director, appointed by a combined parks and wildlife board with approval
from King. At least one of the current heads of the DOW and parks divisions
will be out of a job.

The parks division goes into the merger as the weaker partner. It's about
half the size of the DOW, in terms of its budget and workforce. And unlike
the DOW, it does rely on tax dollars, but it will lose that funding this
year because of the recession.

Before the merger, Hickenlooper proposed closing one state park and
converting three more to state wildlife areas. But many more of the 42 state
parks are at risk, legislators say, including many that allow hunting.

"If we don't combine them and we close a third of the parks, that's a third
less parks that hunters and anglers have access to," Sonnenberg said.

Sonnenberg is sponsoring the bill to merge the two agencies, Senate Bill
208, along with Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who chairs the
Senate Agriculture Committee.

King and the sponsors of SB 208 lined up a powerful coalition to virtually
assure the bill's passage. It has 24 co-sponsors in the Senate - a chamber
that requires only 18 votes to pass a bill - and 32 House co-sponsors, one
short of the magic number of 33.

And Gov. John Hickenlooper himself announced the bill. The merger would be
the most visible achievement in Hickenlooper's pledge to make state
government smaller and more efficient.

"It just happened lightning fast," said Rep. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, one
of the few critics of the merger in the Legislature.

Jones pointed to the 2004 report by the parks division as the most rigorous
piece of information available on whether a merger would work.

The two agencies have different cultures, Jones said.

"A lot of people say that's outdoors stuff. That's like saying Medicaid and
food stamps are the same thing," he said. "I think we'll be back in eight or
10 years undoing it."

Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, also is skeptical.

"I've got an open mind, but I have real questions as to whether it's the
best thing," Brown said.

Hunting groups and retired DOW directors like John Mumma of Durango have
called on the Legislature to slow down and study whether a merger would
work.

"The proposed merger of these two state agencies should be placed on the
back burner and eventually dropped from consideration," Mumma wrote in an
April 2 op-ed in The Durango Herald. 

King pledges to accept suggestions from the public and state employees on
how to make a merger work, but he does not want a committee to study whether
to do a merger in the first place.

"You go into it knowing you're going to come out the other end with no
efficiencies and no meaningful change. Inertia's a powerful force," King
said. "It's a matter of style. The governor clearly supports a bold
approach, and this is part of that."

Reach Joe Hanel at joeh@cortezjournal.com

        
 
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