Some might have considered it a huge challenge. Rick Cables looked at it as an opportunity.
When Cables took over the helm of the newly merged Colorado Parks and Wildlife division in 2011, he saw a chance to make a difference.
"How often do you get an opportunity to create something new? I look at this merger that way. We have an opportunity to create what we want," Cables said shortly after being named the new director of CPW. "We have the opportunity to create the culture we want, the organization we want. ... Being given the opportunity to create something new is a gift you don't get very often, especially something of this magnitude."
At the time, Cables was directing his comments and attention to the employees in his charge, the wildlife officers, park rangers, biologists and others who were asked to shed their independent identities and unite as a single entity working toward a common goal.
Now, it's the community's turn to get involved.
Beginning with the Northwest Regional Sportsmen's Caucus taking place 6 p.m. Wednesday in Grand Junction, CPW is embarking on a new era of community outreach, offering hunters and fishermen an opportunity to provide input on wildlife management issues in Colorado. Active hunters and anglers within the state's four regions will meet to discuss pertinent local wildlife issues with managers, biologists and agency officials, and will be asked to select two delegates from each region to represent wildlife concerns at the newly formed Sportsmen's Roundtable meeting for the first time in Denver next month.
The application process closed last Friday for the 24-member Colorado Sportsmen's Roundtable, although selections have not yet been made and the eight regional representatives are still to be appointed. The group will meet twice a year to discuss issues and help the agency understand the views and ideas of Colorado's hunters and anglers as they work to protect fish, wildlife, habitat and Colorado's hunting heritage.
"I'm really thinking about wildlife here," Cables said. "With wildlife, particularly, no one owns it. It's all of ours. And that's challenging because wildlife honors no boundaries. So if we don't involve the interested affected parties — sportsmen, nonconsumptive users, landowners that host the wildlife — then we become insular and insulated from those perspectives.
"Our job is to bring hard, real science and professional judgment, because that's what we do. But there are so many perspectives out there from people who are in it every day — someone who fishes a stretch of river every day and knows it even better than we do, or an outfitter that's out there every day — that we really need to tap into in order to solve some of these issues that affect us."
The concept is not new. Before Cables' appointment, a committee known as the Sportsmen Advisory Group (SAG) was established to work with the agency in a similar capacity. During a 2010 meeting, members commented that a lack of definition and rules had led the committee to become dysfunctional.
"Ultimately it just kind of fizzled out," said Gaspar Perricone, a member of the Parks and Wildlife Commission appointed to represent sportsmen's interests. "We have always solicited the opinions of hunters and anglers, and the structure is improved, I think. There's a new dynamic with the merged agency, but I think the intent here is that the old system had gone away and under the new agency we wanted to revitalize that effort in a way that sportsmen were happy with that opportunity for engagement."
Both Perricone and Cables note that the issues facing both wildlife and sportsmen in Colorado never go away.
"I think two issues of immediate concern among sportsmen are reauthorization of the habitat stamp and changes to the voucher program," Perricone said. "A paramount and reoccurring theme in every discussion we have is the general state of wildlife management, access to quality hunting and fishing locations and the degree to which the Division can offer the best quality habitat for wildlife throughout the state."
Cables adds financial sustainability of agency programs to his short list of major concerns, along with continued involvement in the state's big water projects, energy development and an immediate focus on the declining mule deer herds on the Western Slope. Sportsmen are sure to have suggestions of their own.
"It's important that we have some meaty issues to work on, because people are busy and they don't want to go to a meeting just for a meeting's sake," Cables said. "Sportsmen are action-oriented. The want to build something, make a difference. They don't just want to talk. So having some significant issues to address is important."
Already there is no shortage of passionate applicants. The key, Cables said, will be found in diversity, selecting thoughtful, experienced outdoorsmen with open minds and varied interests.
Ultimately, the director said, similar groups will be established for other entities influenced by Parks and Wildlife. An agricultural committee has been discussed, as well as a group representing wildlife watchers or nonconsumptive users interested in an exchange of ideas with the sportsmen's group.
"At some point in the mid-to-long run, I'd like to get all three of those groups to collaborate together," Cables said. "But right now, the interest is just to get the sportsmen's group going."
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993, firstname.lastname@example.org
Regional sportsmen's caucuses
Northwest: Wednesday, 6 p.m., Clarion Hotel, 755 Horizon Dr., Grand Junction. Contact Mike Porras at 970-255-6162.
Northeast: Feb. 28, 6:30 p.m., Hunter Education Building, CPW office, 6060 Broadway, Denver. Contact Jennifer Churchill at 303-291-7234.
Southeast: Feb. 28, 6 p.m., CPW office, 4255 Sinton Rd., Colorado Springs. Contact Tracy Predmore at 719-227-5207.
For more information about the Sportsmen's Roundtable and Regional Caucus meetings, contact Dave Chadwick at email@example.com or (303) 291-7174.