ST. GEORGE † While Utah’s wildlife agency oversees millions of dollars in conservation funds raised each year at hunting expos and nonprofit banquets, the full scope of the programs involved and the fundraising process are somewhat obscure to lawmakers and taxpayers alike.
the nature conservation fund, designated as HB 78 in the 2022 Utah Legislaturewould consolidate the individual fundraising programs and – following a change made during the committee’s review – introduce a reporting procedure for legislative oversight.
The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Casey Snider of Cache County, said the legislation was drafted in response to a 2020 audit that found there was an urgent need for greater transparency and accountability.
“In general, sunlight is always the best medicine for everything we do here, especially when it comes to taxpayers’ money,” Snider said. “The creation of this fund is in response to a specific audit, and it allows the public to see every step of the process – including the legislature at a later date – where the money is being spent, where it is being collected. , how many and all the intermediate steps.”
If passed, the bill would create a special revenue fund administered by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The fund would combine two separate but closely related programs: the Conservation Licensing Program and the Wildlife Exhibition Program.
Under the licensing program, the state reserves a small number of hunting tags 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 licenses to auction at banquets or other events, maximizing proceeds for use in approved wildlife management projects.
The new fund will also collect funds raised through the hunting license raffles hosted at major exhibitions such as the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo. At events like these, visitors can pay a relatively small fee to enter a draw for some of the most sought-after trophy hunting licenses available each year.
Lawmakers discussing the bill in the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee meeting cited controversy surrounding the expo permitting program, including a 2016 decision to allow the state’s largest expo (and its share of lottery permits). trust to Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.
The state conservation organization’s decision angered many hunters and conservationists that alleged corruption was the cause of the choice, especially since a competing nonprofit — the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation — that had promised a much larger share of the proceeds from pay the expo to conservation efforts if its management is entrusted.
“It’s caused controversy over the years, I think for good reason,” Snider said. “But I think hopefully this[bill]will clear this up.”
To that end, the fund will manage a larger portion of the money coming in and make sure it’s disbursed to partner organizations with proper documentation, according to the text of the bill. In addition, the bill was amended to include a requirement for annual reporting to the legislature on the amount of money in the fund, its sources and how the money is being spent.
Riley Peck, a wildlife research manager and biologist with the state conservation organization, said the fund is expected to reliably raise millions of dollars annually.
“The conservation permits auctioned during the banquets bring in between $4 (million) to $5 million annually,” Peck said. “The expo permits bring in about $1 million. Those are not exact numbers – they are very close and as you know they can fluctuate with the price of the permits or the number of people applying for those permits.”
After the amendment, the bill was favorably recommended by the House Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and the Environment by a vote of 12-0 (with two members either absent or not voting).
After returning to the Utah House of Representatives for a third reading, the bill was eventually passed by the lower house without opposition and with the support of all five members of the House representing Iron and Washington counties.
The bill has been submitted to the Utah Senate and has already received a favorable opinion from the Natural Resources Commission. As of February 8, it has been placed on the second reading calendar for further consideration on the Senate floor.
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