Mulhall column: How some burning questions fizzle | PostIndependent.com

Mulhall column: How some burning questions fizzle

Mitch Mulhall

In the aftermath of the Lake Christine fire, a recent PI article questioned Colorado Parks and Wildlife's gun range management, not in a critical way, but, through its examination of funding for the Basalt Shooting Range, perhaps in a way that subtly raises the question of whether gun range management should even be something our state government does.

In that article, the PI quoted Democrat State Senator Kerry Donovan who said, "[The Division of Parks and Wildlife] do an incredible job managing an immense amount of land and property and assets to the state."

I agree.

As an angler, I have rarely had CPW check my fishing license, but it's happened.

As a hunter, only in one of the last five muzzleloader seasons has CPW not stopped me to check elk tags, and though I've never even seen an elk while hunting, I'm sure if that ever changes CPW will no doubt be there to make sure I've followed the law.

As a resident, I've seen CPW professionally and humanely capture a sow and cubs who had grown too accustomed to foraging in our neighborhood. CPW brought in a trap, caught the three-some, and relocated them, but not before sharing precautions and giving out contact information to me and my neighbors.

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In my experience, the men and women of CPW do a fine job of fulfilling their responsibilities, though my particular dealings with them illustrate but a fraction of all they do.

Senator Donovan also correctly noted CPW has faced both budget cuts and expanding responsibilities. She mentioned dwindling federal support.

But there's also this: In 2012, Governor Hickenlooper consolidated the Division of Wildlife with the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, both of which operate under Colorado's Department of Natural Resources.

The governor argued the merger was a natural fit that would save $3 million to $4 million annually. Hickenlooper's was a largely economic, fiducially responsible argument.

Job loss was a concern, but the governor insisted it wouldn't be a problem, that baby boomer retirements and normal attrition would in time trim a combined work force of about 900 employees by about 25 state jobs.

Historically, the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has been about a third the size of its Wildlife counterpart, both in terms of work force size and budget.

One of the effects of consolidation may have been to infuse parks and recreation concerns with more reliable funding. Most of us saw this in the Hug-A-Hunter and Hug-An-Angler ad campaigns that ran in 2016. Proceeds from hunting and fishing license sales account for about 62 percent of CPW funding, according to a document on cpw.state.co.us.

Consolidation was not without precedent. Colorado combined these divisions once before back in 1963.

The rationale for the '63 consolidation is hard to pin down, but according to Colorado Encyclopedia, what was then the Colorado Parks and Recreation Department was perpetually underfunded. Perhaps legislators thought consolidation might help remedy this. Whatever the reason, the '63 consolidation lasted only nine years. In 1972, Colorado separated the two, and they remained separate for the next 40 years.

If there were a basis for questioning CPW's gun range management, perhaps it involves changes in the Division's focus since the 2012 consolidation. One effect of consolidation may have been re-examining resource management in light of public interest, though that's pure speculation on my part.

The CPW's mission statement says, "[The CPW exists] To perpetuate the wildlife resources of the state, provide a quality state parks system, and provide enjoyable and sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities that educate and inspire current and future generations to serve as active stewards of Colorado's natural resources."

It's fair to say that like hunter education before it, gun range management may not fit in to that mission the way river trail maintenance or new boat ramp construction does. In that sense, perhaps the Basalt Shooting Range no longer warrants the CPW focus it once enjoyed, but, again, the sources I read yielded nothing to support this thesis. Neither did they reveal anything to refute it.

The truth is, regardless of whether CPW's management of the Basalt Shooting Range may have changed since 2012, CPW is no more culpable for individual conduct than any law enforcement agency.

Neither the range nor CPW's management of it factored in the decision chamber a tracer round and fire.

So far, at least, it's refreshing that nothing I've read or heard about the Lake Christine wildfire's causes or contributing factors points a finger at the gun.

Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime valley resident. His column appears on the second Friday of each month.