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Will Utah clean up its sale of public wildlife?

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Ben Long | Aug 16, 2012 06:00 AM

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.

Trophy elk

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.

Martin Hagen
Martin Hagen Subscriber
Aug 19, 2012 11:41 AM
Thanks for this article, I was begining to wonder if my views on this were in the minority or down right obscure! Capitalizing on an area's wild reasources for profit ranks right up there with the killing farms that are so popular with the "hunting elite" as far as I'm concerned and validates one of the montras that I live by. "Whithout discipline, there is no respect given nor recieved."
JW Westman
JW Westman Subscriber
Aug 20, 2012 06:30 PM
Good job Ben in educating the people on the activities of these groups. Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife have been caught in unsavory activities not only in Utah but Alaska, Arizona and are quite actively promoting Ranching for Wildlife here in Montana. They also have a sister group, Big Game Forever. The founder of both these groups has called the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation socialism. They are some of the largest groups advocating for private take over of our public wildlife. We all must strictly adhere to the NA Model with the Public Trust Doctrine as it's cornerstone and constantly be on the alert regarding these groups as they are very well connected politically and service a large wealthy base.
Ben Long
Ben Long
Aug 21, 2012 09:59 AM
Thanks Martin. I agree that both game farms and selling public wildlife for one group's gain (as with the Utah tag raffles) violates the legacy of conservation known as the North American Model. Wildlife belongs to EVERYONE, not just one brand of conservation group.
marshall johnson
marshall johnson
Aug 22, 2012 11:49 AM
Not a very well written article. It is 1 sided. Why are there no comments from utah wildlife division nor the 2 organizations? Befoe blogging wouldn'nt you want to make sure you have the facts? Very poor job of reporting in my opinion.
Ben Long
Ben Long
Aug 22, 2012 11:55 AM
Thanks for the feedback, Marshall. There is a difference between blogging and news reporting. I linked to Brett Prettyman's very good news reporting. Blogging is more about opinion and conclusions. I am opinionated, but do have a duty to be accurate. If you think my facts are wrong, please point the errors out.
marshall johnson
marshall johnson
Aug 22, 2012 03:20 PM
I stand corrected Ben, you are right, blogs are just opinions and maybe factful or fiction or both. Fact, MDF shared the accounting and is taking it a step further based on the recommendation of the DWR director, to meet with the UWC to share even more of the accounting. It was also found that the two organizations have not violated any state rules during the past six years this program has been in place. 60% of the funds ($5 entry fee) are used to administer the raffle/lottery and no, its not a drawing out a hat. this is as sophisticated as the state license drawing,, a private company to manage it, the personnel to handle the entry forms, enter them into the system, ect. The remaining 40% went to conservation projects and conservation efforts. that 60% generates millions in that people are employed, it draws thousands of people to downtown SLC where they spend money dining, hotels, shopping,and parking. If there was not lottery/raffle,..those millions would be lost and the big loser would be conservation.
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Aug 22, 2012 03:27 PM
Marshall, thanks for your comments. However, I would like to note that blogs, while they may be opinionated and less reported than a standard article, are not allowed to be fictional. Thus, Mr. Long's piece is not "factful or fiction or both," as you write. In an opinion blog, the author, in this case Mr. Long, takes the facts and crafts his opinionated analysis around them. There is a difference, which I hope you appreciate, between opinions based on facts and something that is fictional. We do not publish fiction -- that is, content that is made up and not fact-based -- as a general rule, and on the few occasions that we do, it is clearly noted.

Thanks for reading.

Stephanie P Ogburn, online editor.
Ben Long
Ben Long
Aug 22, 2012 03:27 PM
Valid opinions, Marshall. Obviously, you are very close to this and I'm sure your facts and figures are correct. And I appreciate much of the good work the Mule Deer Foundation does for one of my favorite big game animals. I'm eager to learn more about steps being taken to increase public accounting for this program and am glad the DWR is being responsive to public concerns. For me, the issue was never one of law (I never implied any laws had been broken). The larger question is one of principle: is it right for ANY group to gain monetarily from liquidating a public resource? You and I may have to agree to disagree on that. Thanks for your conversation.
marshall johnson
marshall johnson
Aug 22, 2012 03:32 PM
Where is the "Gain"? there is no secret bank account used for personal purchases. 100% of the funds are either used to administer the lottery or put back into conservation. Liquidating that public resource provides more "liquid" to provide more for that public resource
marshall johnson
marshall johnson
Aug 22, 2012 03:42 PM
I do agree that there should be transperancy.
Ben Long
Ben Long
Aug 22, 2012 03:48 PM
The "gain" is the liberty to have money to spend pursuing your agenda, be it predator control, wolf delisting, whatever. "Put back into conservation" is a pretty broad and vague category. Let me put it to you this way: what if it were the Southern Utah Wilderness Association or The Nature Conservancy that was selling the tags and spending the money. Would you be comfortable with that? Because the wildlife belongs to everyone, not just hunters. I say this with respect to you, MDF, SUWA and TNC.
marshall johnson
marshall johnson
Aug 22, 2012 04:07 PM
I don't care who does it as long as the money is used toward conservation and hunters right
marshall johnson
marshall johnson
Aug 22, 2012 07:22 PM
Ben, I appreciate the debate as it is civil and common sense is shared. Thank you.

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