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:firstname.lastname@example.org> 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 email@example.com