Wildlife agency needs to cut $10M
Hunting, fishing decline puts agency in a bind
The fading popularity of hunting and fishing is catching up to Colorado’s wildlife agency, which needs to cut about $10 million out of its budget next year.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commissioners entertained options to make cuts while keeping the agency running smoothly for hunters and anglers at a meeting Sept. 12 in Montrose.
Ideas include cuts to scientific research, fewer purchases of new state wildlife areas and less monitoring of wildlife species.
“Certainly none of these cuts are things we’re comfortable with as a staff. These programs are funded today because we think they’re important,” said Jeff Ver Steeg, the agency’s assistant director for research, policy and planning.
No cuts were finalized Thursday, Sept. 12, but the governor-appointed Parks and Wildlife Commission told its staff to prepare to proceed with $9.9 million in cuts to the $80.7 million wildlife fund. The cuts include 17 full-time positions, some of which are vacant.
The biggest proposed cuts would be a $1 million annual reduction for land purchases to protect habitat, and putting $1 million worth of construction projects on hold.
The proposal also seeks to shift $1 million in habitat stamps – which hunters and anglers buy with their licenses – from land purchases to operations and maintenance of existing wildlife areas.
“This is a proposal to get us through the next five years. Beyond that, it’s a whole new game,” Ver Steeg said.
No job cuts are proposed in Southwest Colorado. The proposal includes $87,500 in budget-tightening in the southwest region, the smallest cuts of the division’s four regions.
Randy Hampton, the agency’s spokesman, said the most lucrative source of revenue – elk hunting licenses to out-of-state residents – is on the decline. Wildlife managers had issued lots of licenses in an effort to reduce the herd’s numbers, and now that the targeted numbers are met, fewer licenses are available.
The wildlife agency has been struggling with its budget for two years, when its new financial managers discovered their predecessors had overstated the agency’s cash by $32 million.
The commission recouped much of that money by cancelling construction protects, including a planned move of the regional headquarters in Durango to Gunnison.
Mike King, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said the commission should not flinch from making large cuts soon.
“Let’s not forget that the long-term trend of hunter participation – our main source of revenue – is going in the wrong direction,” King said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife was formed two years ago from the merger of the Division of Wildlife and the State Parks division.
The $10 million shortfall is entirely on wildlife side of the agency, Hampton said.
It’s a reversal of fortune from the time of the merger, when the parks division was assumed to be the weaker partner after struggling with low revenue for years.
“Parks (division) is actually in good financial condition,” Hampton said.