COLORADO

For 23 years, staffers of the Colorado Natural Areas Program have cataloged the state's rare plant and animal habitat, notable geologic formations, and fossil-rich lands. But they may be out of work by summer, when CNAP's state funding is set to dry up.

The program negotiates voluntary agreements with landowners and works with public agencies to protect and manage 120,400 acres of natural areas. It awards small grants for the study of natural areas, and is a center of expertise on native and rare Colorado plants. "There is nothing else in the state government that does anything like this," says Janet Coles, senior researcher with CNAP.

The cut was a matter of priorities, says Steven Hall of the Colorado State Parks division, the program's parent agency. When advised by a consulting firm to double staff numbers at individual parks, the agency had to "find some belt-tightening" elsewhere, and ancillary programs such as CNAP felt the crunch. Hall says the 63 natural areas currently administered under CNAP will keep their designations, and that state parks will work with outside rare plant and animal specialists as needed.

The seven-member volunteer council that oversees CNAP hopes the state legislature will reinstate the program, and is actively seeking another institutional home for CNAP. "We need a program like this," says council chair Will Murray. "Nobody else will pick up the slack."