Wildlife division chief Russell George taking over Natural Resources
Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) ” Russell George, a water attorney serving as director of Colorado’s Division of Wildlife, was chosen Friday to head its sprawling parent agency, the Department of Natural Resources.
Gov. Bill Owens said George’s lifetime background in wildlife made him the perfect candidate to replace Greg Walcher, who resigned to clear the way for a fall congressional campaign.
“He is an energetic and articulate advocate for commonsense policies to protect and preserve Colorado’s natural resources,” Owens said.
George, a former speaker of the Colorado House, said he would review a controversial plan to reorganize the agency and adopt recommendations that make sense.
“Colorado’s natural resources are the envy of many. Our state parks, wildlife, minerals, forests, water, oil and gas resources are an important part of what Colorado is all about,” George said.
Susan LeFever, spokeswoman for the Sierra Club, said George is a good choice.
“Russ George has experience and he has a good ability to work with people,” she said. “He cares about wildlife and protecting Colorado’s wildlife. He’s known for being fair-minded and he certainly has the knowledge, background and understanding.”
Some environmental groups contend there is growing political influence in wildlife decisions made in Colorado and they have cited the backgrounds of Walcher and George, both Owens appointees.
Walcher used to head Club 20, a powerful business lobbying group for western Colorado. He is expected to seek the seat of retiring Republican Rep. Scott McInnis this fall.
George, a Rifle attorney who specializes in water law, in 2000 became the first DOW director with no wildlife management experience. He was criticized by some for backing a a 1996 bill that transferred responsibility for predator control from the wildlife division to the Agriculture Department after ranchers complained their concerns were being ignored.
At the time, George said he was simply representing his western Colorado district, which includes ranchers and farmers who lose livestock to predators.
George will take over a natural resources agency that has been sharply criticized recently for its approach to wildlife management and for hiring an Utah consultant to come up with ways to consolidate departments and save money.
Under the original deal, Alta Ventures was paid $100,000, plus a 4 percent contingency fee, for any money saved or generated by its ideas ” a deal that could have been worth some $800,000. State lawmakers grappling with budget cuts were angered by the contract, which has since been renegotiated.
Walcher also was singled out for criticism by employees in the Division of Wildlife. Records show that some of the division’s suggestions to protect wildlife on western Colorado’s Roan Plateau were left out of the state’s final report to the federal Bureau of Land Management ” a report submitted by the Department of Natural Resources.
The wildlife division is the largest of the eight within the natural resources department, with about half the agency’s 2,500 employees.
LeFever said she hopes George will take another look at reorganization to determine if it is needed and will help the wildlife agency do its job.
“There might be some efficiencies putting agencies together, but wildlife is important,” she said. “If they are incorporated, we fear they will lose their independence.”
George said he will stay on as wildlife chief for now while he searches for his successor.
On the Net:
Colorado Department of Wildlife: http://widlife.state.co.us
Department of Natural Resources: http://dnr.state.co.us
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