Utah bill aims to make fundraising for wildlife conservation more transparent and accountable – St George News

Street. GeorgeWhile the Utah Wildlife Agency oversees the millions of dollars in conservation funds raised each year at nonprofit hunting fairs and banquets, the full scope of the programs involved and the fundraising process has been somewhat of a mystery to lawmakers and taxpayers alike.

File photo for illustrative purposes: Southern Utah hunting organization holds annual banquet and auction to raise funds for advocacy and conservation, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2013 | Photography by Chris Caldwell, St. George’s News

Wildlife Conservation Fund, Designated as HB 78 in the 2022 Utah Legislaturewould consolidate separate fundraising programs and – after an adjustment made during the Committee’s review – implement a reporting procedure for legislative oversight.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Representative Casey Snyder, of Cash County, said the legislation was drafted in response to the 2020 scrutiny that found an urgent need for more transparency and accountability.

“In general, sunlight is always the best medicine for whatever we do here, especially when the taxpayer is dollars,” Snyder said. “The creation of this fund comes in response to a specific vetting process, and allows the public to see every step in the process — including the legislature later — where the money is being spent, where it is raised, how much, and all the steps in between.”

If approved, the bill would create a special revenue fund to be administered by the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources. The fund will combine two separate but closely related programs: the Wildlife Conservation Permit Program and the Wildlife Exposition Program.

Under the permit program, the state sets aside a small number of hunting marks for conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Mule Deer Foundation. These organizations can apply for and obtain hunting permits to auction at banquets or other events, increasing proceeds for use in approved wildlife management projects.

stock image | Photo by Zimmytws/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George’s News

The new fund also collects money raised through hunting permit sweepstakes that are organized at large fairs such as Western Hunting and Conservation Expo. At such events, attendees can pay a relatively small fee to enter the draw for some of the most sought-after prize quest passes available each year.

Lawmakers who debated the bill at the House Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and the Environment meeting noted the controversy surrounding the fair’s permit program, including a 2016 decision to commission the state’s largest fair (and the accompanying share of sweepstakes passes) to Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

The decision by the state’s wildlife agency angered many hunters and conservationists who claimed alleged corruption was to blame for the selection, particularly because a rival nonprofit—the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation—has promised to commit to a much larger share of the show’s proceeds. Conservation efforts if entrusted with its management.

“It’s stirred controversy over the years, I really think so,” Snyder said. “But I think this (bill) I hope will clarify that.”

Representative Casey Snyder (Cash County) speaks on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives introducing the Wildlife Conservation Fund Bill (HB 78), Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan 28, 2022 | Image courtesy of the Utah legislature, St. George’s News

To this end, the fund will manage more incoming funds and ensure their disbursement to partner organizations with appropriate documentation, in accordance with the text of the law. In addition, the bill was amended to include a requirement to submit annual reports to the legislature on the amount of money in the fund, its sources, and how the money is spent.

The fund is expected to raise millions of dollars each year, said Riley Beck, director of wildlife research and a biologist for the state’s wildlife agency.

Beck said, “Conservation licenses that are auctioned at banquets generate, annually, between $4 (million) and $5 million. Gallery permits bring in about $1 million. Those aren’t exact numbers — they’re very close and as you know they can fluctuate with price. permits or the number of people applying for those permits.”

Amended, the bill was recommended in favor of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and the Environment by a 12-0 majority (with two members absent or no voting).

After returning to the Utah House of Representatives for a third reading, the bill eventually passed the lower chamber unopposed and with the support of all five House members representing Iron County and Washington.

The bill has been submitted to the Utah Senate and has already received a positive recommendation from the Natural Resources Committee. As of February 8, it has been placed on the second reading calendar for further consideration on the Senate floor.

Check out all our St. George’s News coverage of the Utah Legislature for the year 2022 over here.

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Copyright St. George’s News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.