DENVER The merger of Colorados divisions of Wildlife and State Parks is a done deal, thanks to Gov. John Hickenloopers approval Monday.
Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 208 at Sylvan Lake State Park near Eagle. Its his highest-profile achievement in his pledge to make government more efficient.
The legislative work is over, but now managers at the two agencies will have to combine them over the next several months.
The new joint board that will oversee the Division of Parks and Wildlife will meet Friday in Grand Junction to interview three finalists to lead the new agency. The interviews will take place behind closed doors.
A new chief could be hired by next week, said Mike King, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. An employee team of six people from each agency has already met four or five times to work on the merger.
Theyve been incredibly productive. Folks are rolling up their sleeves and getting after it, King said.
The new parks and wildlife board will have a public meeting in July in Denver, and it will meet monthly in different towns for the rest of the year to figure out how to finish the merger.
Before the merger, state parks were in trouble. Hickenlooper had moved to close or downgrade four parks, with perhaps more on the chopping block next year.
King told the Legislature at least 25 jobs overlap in the two agencies and can be consolidated when the current employees retire or take new jobs.
But groups like the Colorado Wildlife Federation continue to question how efficient the new organization will be.
All of us are waiting to see what, if any, cost savings actually occur, said Todd Malmsbury, the CWFs communications director.
The new agency will have to be careful not to use wildlife funds from hunters and the federal government to prop up parks. If it did, the federal government could take back its money.
We do not want to see any reduction in wildlife management, the science necessary to sustain that management or the reduction of core habitats, Malmsbury said.
King has promised that hunting money will not be used improperly for parks.
He has to report to the Legislature by Feb. 29, 2012, about how the merger is going.