Parks and Wildlife bill stirs debate

DENVER — Lawmakers tangled this week over who should get a bigger voice on the state’s new Parks and Wildlife Commission — the suburban people who make up most of Colorado’s hunters and hikers, or the Western Slope residents who live near most of the prime habitat.

The Legislature merged the divisions of wildlife and state parks last year, and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg’s House Bill 1317 remakes the board that oversees the combined agency.

The House voted 35-30 to pass the bill Wednesday and send it to the Senate.

But the bill exposed sharp divisions between the Front Range and rural areas, park users and sportsmen, and Democrats and Republicans.

Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, successfully amended the bill to require at least five members of the 11-person board to live west of the Continental Divide. That set off a long debate Monday, with many Democrats opposing the move.

“People who represent suburban districts have the most people participating in both parks and hunting and fishing,” said Rep. Matt Jones, D-Louisville.

No part of the state should get an overweighted vote, Jones said. He preferred a plan that would have given at least one seat to each of the state’s seven congressional districts.

But Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said that idea would concentrate the vote in the metro area.

“You would take the area most affected (and give it) the least representation,” Coram said.

Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, also opposed Jones’ plan.

“Who are the people that provide the habitat for the wildlife in this state and the land for parks in this state? They are people in the rural areas,” Brown said.

But the busiest state parks are all on the Front Range, Democrats said.

Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, has been working on his bill since last year. It has gone through numerous rewrites as park users, hunters, local governments and other interest groups scrambled for a greater say on the board.

As passed by the House, HB 1317 creates an 11-person Parks and Wildlife board appointed by the governor, including:

Three hunters or anglers.

Three farmers or ranchers.

Three state park users, including at least one from a wildlife conservation nonprofit group,

Two at-large members.

The bill still has to survive the Senate.