Wildlife group wants more oversight of Utah's $1 million hunting tag program
There was a time when Tye Boulter was content to pay the $5 application fee, cross his fingers and hope to be one of the lucky ones to draw a Utah hunting permit offered at the annual Western Hunting & Conservation Expo held in Salt Lake City.
But at some point he started wondering what happened to his money and that of the thousands of others doing the same, money that can total more than $1 million annually; none of which is required to go back to the state, which issues the permits.
President of the United Wildlife Cooperative, Boulter and others investigated the "convention tag" program managed by nonprofit hunting groups hosting the show and realized there was little accountability for how the money was spent.
Perhaps even more troubling is that it appears some of that money is being used to lobby lawmakers on issues that divide some of the hunting groups.
"The money is not earmarked in any way. They could buy a condo in Bermuda for all we knew. They should be held accountable, and the money should go back to the state or the public," Boulter said. "The ultimate issue is that public resource funds are being used to support whatever agendas these groups want to support. They say they represent all sportsmen in Utah on these important issues, but they don't."
The Convention Permit program was born in 2005 when the Utah Wildlife Board approved a proposal to allocate a maximum of 200 hunting permits annually to the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo as an attempt to draw more people to Salt Lake City for the national convention.
The expo is heading into its seventh year in February 2013 and the convention permits are wildly popular. Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) President Miles Moretti says about 12,000 people applied for the convention tags last winter and many of them applied for more than one hunt.
The $5 per-hunt application fees have generated between $800,000 to more than $1 million a year.
Alan Clark, assistant director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said state officials attend the drawings to ensure "nothing unusual happens" and that the groups are following the rules as approved by the Utah Wildlife Board.
Any changes to the convention tag rule will have to come from the board and that seems unlikely any time soon since four years remain on the current contract with MDF and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.
Boulter, through the United Wildlife Cooperative, gathered more than 1,000 online signatures petitioning the Utah Wildlife Board to modify the current rule on convention tags to be similar to the popular, and much larger, conservation permit program. Ninety percent of the money raised from the auctioning of those tags is required to be used by preapproved conservation projects in Utah. Groups handling the auctions for those permits are allowed to keep 10 percent of the funds as handling fees.
Those concerns will be addressed at a Utah Wildlife Board meeting starting at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Department of Natural Resources building, 1594 W. North Temple. The convention tags issue is expected to come up after a lunch break.
The cost of promoting, holding and awarding the convention permits is high, according to Moretti, but he acknowledges that a large portion of the money remains when obligations are fulfilled.
"We do have some left over," Moretti said. "Some people would like to us spend more on projects. There are many ways to do conservation."
He said the groups have dedicated funds from the convention tag program to projects including bitter brush planting, flashing deer signs, wildlife water guzzler installations, pinyon and juniper thinning and National Archery in the Schools. Moretti said money has also been used for informing the public and the Legislature on efforts like the creation of the Mule Deer Protection Act, predator control and the delisting of wolves from the federal Endangered Species List.
Wildlife board meeting
P The Utah Wildlife Board meeting begins 9 a.m. Thursday at the Department of Natural Resources building, 1594 W. North Temple. The Convention Permit program is expected to come up after a lunch break.