After over two years of public meetings and outreach bipartisan members of the legislature have introduced in the Colorado House a bill to provide for the future of Colorado’s wildlife and state parks. Although the legislature must pass the bill, none of the funding will come from Colorado’s General Fund or taxes. Users of Colorado’s state parks, sportspersons, and watercraft users will pay 100% of the bill.
Fees for state parks were last raised in 2010, for resident hunting and fishing licenses in 2005, and most funding for Aquatic Nuisance Species inspections was eliminated due to a recent court case. The effects of inflation, the explosion in state park visitation combined with existing caps on state park fees, have reduced Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) spending power by 22% since 2005. Staff at CPW with the input and approval of the citizen Commission that oversees CPW has continuously restructured CPW over the last few years. The result is the agency has defunded 50 positions, cut $40 million, and deferred tens of millions of dollars of maintenance on CPW’s 100 dams and other properties.
As a citizen commissioner whose business is restructuring organizations, I have pushed and probed not only for future savings but better processes. There is a new licensing information system going in place next year that will allow for simplicity and savings for the public in big game licensing. CPW has adopted in budgeting and operations sophisticated Japanese business concepts such as Lean to reduce waste. The workforce is dedicated and working even longer hours due to the cuts of the last few years. Any successful organization must make innovation and re-engineering an annual goal. Commissioners, legislators, and the governor are right to probe and remain vigilant, but this is hardly the kind of fat and lazy organization I have spent my career reforming.
And the demand side is compelling. After two years on the Commission I have never had a member of public ask for less from CPW with one exception. The public wants better licensing, more science, better amenities at parks, more conservation, and more personnel in the field. The exception is a narrow one around land purchases. It is a typical Western principled discussion about how much land belongs in public hands.
But even the land issue relates to a demand for more. Members of the public, particularly in rural Colorado, want CPW to be as a good neighbor as rural Coloradans before it acquires more land. They want better operations and maintenance. More attention to fences, removal of invasive species, and a prompt return call to citizens with questions and issues about public land. The bill provides the means to answer those reasonable demands.
And there are demands for new or cancelled services beyond the Aquatic Nuisance Species Program. The public has told the Commission repeatedly in open testimony and in the eighteen public meetings held in 2016 that they want more hunting and fishing access. More programs to introduce youth and newcomers to the outdoors and conservation. More development and expansion within the existing parks. More protection of wetlands and conservation.
The demand side is clear. If this were a company, the board of directors would authorize management to raise fees. But state parks and wildlife are not widgets. They are public assets and the legislature and public were right to have pushed CPW over the last two years. Right to question the numbers. Right to question how much authority the citizen Commission should have in setting fees. Right to ask if the balance is right.
House Bill 17-1321 seeks to address those concerns. It is my hope that a bipartisan process in both houses will find the bill or an amended version a thoughtful attempt to provide for the critters and lands of Colorado. As our population continues to grow, it is the right time to provide for conservation for our wild lands. Please write to your representatives and senators in support of House Bill 17-1321.
John Howard is Vice-Chair of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission and the views expressed are entirely his own.