Wildlife dollars fund prison

  • ILLEGAL? The Delta County Correctional Facility

    Cindy Wehling photo
  A recent federal audit of Colorado wildlife funding has gotten some people upset. Among other violations, the audit has revealed that license fees intended for state wildlife programs were spent on land for a prison in Rifle, Colo.

Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reimburses state agencies for a portion of their wildlife spending. To receive the federal funds under the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937, states must agree to use all fishing and hunting license money - and any property purchased with this money - for wildlife programs. The audit found that some of this land has changed hands several times, obscuring the original source of its funding.

In one example, the Colorado Department of Parks and Recreation deeded a portion of the Rifle Gap State Recreation Area - property originally purchased with $57,000 in license fees - to the state Department of Corrections. The Rifle prison was then built on the land, a purpose "clearly unrelated to the management of the fish- and wildlife-oriented resources of the state," says the Department of Interior audit, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Federal Aid Grants to the State of Colorado for Fiscal Years 1994 and 1995.

Kathy Kanda of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources says that state agencies have been meeting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to try to resolve the problems. The Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that the state reimburse its wildlife programs for the current value of the land in question, a proposal that the state has strongly opposed.

The Sportsmen's Wildlife Defense Fund is suing the Colorado Department of Wildlife and the Fish and Wildlife Service, charging that the Rifle prison and a prison in Delta, Colo., were built illegally (HCN, 6/26/95). Tom Huerkamp, the group's founder and a longtime opponent of prisons in rural areas, says the Fish and Wildlife Service is legally required to suspend its federal grants to Colorado - about $10 million per year - until state lawmakers pass legislation to ensure that wildlife dollars are used appropriately in the future.

"It seems to me they've made our case," says Huerkamp of the audit. "This shows we were absolutely right."

*Michelle Nijhuis

High Country News Classifieds