"We’re Giving Money To The Same People Who Are Stabbing Us In The Back"

Did you know that North Dakota Game & Fish dollars – money from fees paid for hunting and fishing licenses, among other things – are being used to subsidize employees for Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever?

I found out about it by filing an open records request with the Game & Fish Department, and I was shocked to see that those two nonprofits have received nearly $600,000 from the State of North Dakota since 2010. What’s more, a couple of lawmakers I spoke to about it were surprised as well.

I wrote about it at Watchdog today:

“I’m a little bit surprised,” Senator Terry Wanzek, a Republican from Jamestown, said when informed of the amount of state dollars flowing to the groups. “It just isn’t right.”

Wanzek carried the the Game & Fish Department’s budget to the Senate floor during the 2015 session and dealt with it extensively in the Senate Appropriations Committee of which he is a member. Yet he said he wasn’t aware of these payments.

“Sometimes these things don’t present themselves during discussion,” he said.

Rep. Mike Brandenburg, a Republican from Edgely, expressed similar surprise at the dollar amounts and echoed Wanzek’s concerns.

“I am a bit concerned about it too,” he said. “We are gonna have to talk about it. That’s where I’m at. I just kind of found out about it too, I was like, ‘really’? The red flags are up. Here we’re giving money to the same people who are stabbing us in the back. I don’t appreciate that.”

What’s being funded are DU and PF employees who work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service on conservation programs. The NRCS has a great deal of influence over land use which impacts agriculture and energy development significant, as you might imagine, while DU and PF are nonprofits with a political agenda. You’ll remember that those groups spent millions pushing Measure 5 on the 2014 ballot which would have created a slush fund from hundreds of millions of oil tax revenues for conservation groups like theirs.

The argument from agriculture groups is that DU and PF aren’t neutral parties and so shouldn’t be working with the government in an official capacity:

“I think there’s a lot wrong with that,” Dan Wogsland, executive director of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association, said of the state payments to the groups. “All of a sudden the fees paid by sportsmen have become a subsidy program.”

Pete Hannebut, public policy director for the North Dakota Farm Bureau, said the partnership “doesn’t pass the smell test.”

“It’s Game & Fish, and it smells like gamey fish,” he said. “It’s completely inappropriate for DU or PF to be the conduit for ND taxpayer dollars being laundered and then returned to another taxpayer funded agency.  These groups have tried to siphon off tax payer dollars in their Measure 5 efforts and I hope our State Game & Fish Department will end these relationships going forward.”

But Kading defended the arrangement. “These coordinated efforts bring non-state matching funds to North Dakota to assist private landowners with voluntary conservation programs,” he said. He also pointed out that general fund tax dollars aren’t being used.

“No state general fund tax dollars are used to fund these partnerships,” he said. “The Department‘s primary source of funds is revenue generated from sportsmen purchasing North Dakota hunting and fishing licenses.  Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Department distributes funds to the Department, that result from federal excise assessments on certain equipment (such as firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing gear and boat fuel) purchased by hunters, anglers, shooters and boaters.”

Wogsland said those fee dollars could be spent on “better management of hunting and fisheries.”

Hannebut added that sportsmen might be surprised to find their fees spent on such a partnership. “If the Game and Fish has taxpayer money to fund not-for-profit activities, maybe it’s time for G&F to lower license fees,” he said. “I know that a lot of my fellow hunters pursue multiple species, but what do deer hunters think of their license fee dollars being turned over to DU?”

That’s a good question. I doubt a lot of sportsmen know that part of their fees – which have been increasing of late – is going to groups like DU and PF.

The lawmaker I spoke to say this financial relationship between Game & Fish and the nonprofits is going to get some scrutiny:

Wanzek and Brandenburg, both of whom serve on the Legislature’s interim Budget Section Committee which oversees financial matters for the state between regular legislative sessions, said this arrangement is likely to get some scrutiny from lawmakers.

“It’s something that might come up during a Budget Section meeting,” Wanzek said.

Brandenburg agreed. “Oh yeah, it’s going to be talked about,” he said. “What they’ve got there it’s like having the fox in the hen house. I don’t think it’s a good thing.”

“We try to work with the local people with the Fish & Game and really we need to have a partnership dealing with our in state people,” Brandenburg added. “The problem is we get the influence from out of state from the federal level that receives money they receive.”

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. Read the whole article.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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