Washington, DC -- Biology is taking a backseat to politics at the Colorado Division of Wildlife, according to an employee survey released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Survey results reflect widespread fear of retaliation, strong doubts about the scientific integrity of decisions and deep concern about DOW's declining effectiveness in protecting wildlife.
The most prevalent concern expressed by employees is growing political interference with environmental decision-making within the DOW:
· Nearly nine out of ten (88%) believe that "the scientific integrity" of the DOW "is compromised because the Executive Director of the Colorado of Department of Natural Resources is a political appointee" with nearly three quarters (74%) saying they do not "trust DOW top administrators to defend the state's wildlife resources against political pressure from special interests;"
· Nearly two-thirds (63%) know of cases where management reassigned or changed the responsibility of a person as a result of their work on a controversial project. And more than half (60%) of the professional staff are personally affected by a fear of retaliation, agreeing with the statement, "I am hesitant to perform certain aspects of my job for fear of retaliation;" and
· Half of respondents believe "many decisions of DOW ignore sound wildlife or fishery biology" while more than two in five (42%) of the professional staff report instances where they have been directed to overlook or ignore "a specific threat to wildlife."
As one DOW staff person commented in the essay portion of the survey, "Current DNR management has made politics the dominating factor to the point of micromanagement to the detriment of the wildlife resource." Another added, "Axes are being ground, old scores are being settled and the welfare of both the wildlife and the sportsman are being ignored."
PEER conducted the survey among all DOW biologists, game wardens and regional managers (Wildlife Managers Series 2, 3, 4 and 5). PEER mailed out 343 surveys containing questions developed by DOW employees and more than a quarter of those (91 or 26.5%) returned completed surveys.
"This survey is a piercing cry for help from Colorado's wildlife managers," stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, who coordinated the survey. "These results indicate that reform is needed at the Division and at DNR."
Employees perceive increasing special interest influence is hurting agency effectiveness:
· More than two-thirds (67%) say "Colorado's wildlife resources" are less protected than they were five years ago with only one third of employees feeling that "DOW is moving in the right direction;" and
· Only one in five employees believe that morale is good at DOW with more than three quarters (83%) saying that DOW is not a better place to work than it was five years ago; and
· More than three in five (62%) do not think "professionalism is recognized and rewarded by DOW administrators." The PEER survey also served as a referendum on the quality of agency leadership:
· Nearly nine out of ten (87%) do not think that Greg Walcher is doing a good job as the head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. By contrast, more than three quarters (83%) say Russell George is doing a good job as DOW Director;
· While nearly four out of five (79%) believe that "DOW has an effective program for managing and conserving the state's wildlife," employees are equally divided as to whether "DOW is a well managed agency;" and
· More than two out of five employees (42%) do not believe that "DOW administration generally provides complete and accurate information to the public on controversial issues" while less than a third (31%) think "DOW leadership provides clear and consistent directions to staff on how to address controversial issues."
DNR Executive Director Greg Walcher drew much of the staff ire. One employee wrote, "Too many decision are being made by political hacks like Mr. Walcher." Another DOW staff member commented, "Since Greg Walcher has been appointed, he has never given clear policy direction to staff – he treats us as opposition but has never said what he wants to accomplish and how that differs from what we are doing."
"The survey was drafted by a group of committed employees who care deeply about the direction the agency is headed, " added Rosenthal. "This survey is a way for DOW professionals to speak directly and candidly to their true employers, the people of Colorado."
PEER is distributing survey results to the Colorado legislature, conservation organizations and to DOW employees.
See full survey results
Read employee essays on how to improve environmental stewardship