Will Utah clean up its sale of public wildlife?

 

For years now, well-connected hunting groups in Utah have figured out a way to make big bucks off big game. Now news reports indicate sportsmen in Utah are getting fed up.

Will Utah’s lawmakers put a spotlight on these transactions?

Here’s the deal: Every year, two sportsmen’s groups, Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife and the Mule Deer Foundation, raffle off a slate of highly prized licenses to hunt special areas with special privileges in the Beehive State.  They do it at a big expo held in downtown Salt Lake City.

The two groups pocket about $1 million a year from the raffle, no questions asked and no strings attached.  In theory, the money benefits everyone by being plowed back into conservation. After all, the wildlife belongs to everyone.

Trouble is, as the new watchdog group, United Wildlife Cooperative points out, there is no transparency and no accountability as to how the money is spent.

“They could buy a condo in Bermuda for all we know,” says Utah sportsman Tye Boulter.

The money is supposed to help these groups defray the costs of holding an expo and selling the tickets. But they already charge admission, charge for food, charge for entertainment and charge for vendors to have booth space.

In effect, the raffles are a seven-figure slush fund for a private political agenda.

There is growing concern about these sweetheart deals well beyond Utah. The Montana-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation recently called for improved transparency in these cases. That triggered an indignant response from the head of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, even though the news release never mentioned Utah by name.

The issue is coming before the Utah Wildlife Board this week, thanks to pressure brought to bear by the United Wildlife Cooperative.

Taxpayers of Utah should demand an outside program audit of the entire expo raffle system and demand an honest accounting for every dime. After all, private groups are making bank off of a public asset: wildlife.

Meanwhile, sportsmen and wildlife advocates in the other 49 states should make sure this particularly noxious weed doesn’t spread beyond the Wasatch Front. Sunshine is the best pesticide.

Ben Long is an author, outdoorsman and conservationist in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director for Resource Media.

Image of trophy mount courtesy Flickr user erin williamson.