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Where's the money?

Published July 7, 2013 5:14 pm

Cut off tax funds to anti-wolf group
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah taxpayers should demand to know exactly how an anti-wolf-reintroduction group is spending their money.

A report the political action group filed last week reveals next to nothing about what the group Big Game Forever is doing with more than $300,000 the Utah Legislature has handed over to block federal protection of wolves.

That's a sizable chunk of taxpayer money that has disappeared with virtually nothing to show for it. And legislators are poised to dole out another $300,000, the fourth allocation of state funds made to the group. Big Game Forever received $100,000 in grants in 2010 and 2011 from the state Division of Wildlife Resources' hunting and fishing license fees.

Big Game Forever makes the kind of claims that attract support from conservative lawmakers who want state control over wolves. But the group provides no receipts for what last year's $300,000 handout covered.

A legislative audit of the organization is overdue, and Sen. Gene Davis is acting responsibly in calling for an accounting.

Bountiful attorney Ryan Benson organized BGF as a spin-off from the influential political advocacy group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife in April 2010 and has been collecting money from the state ever since. Benson owes taxpayers a half-million-dollar explanation, and the Legislature should put a hold on any more money going to the organization until he comes clean.

It appears the group received last year's funding as payment for lobbying the Obama administration to remove the gray wolf from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

But the move was well underway before that, and last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the predator, citing the gray wolf's rebound in the Northern Rockies since it was reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in 1995. The BGF report mostly describes activities that occurred before the year covered in the contract and provides no detailed accounting for the contract year.

The group's website calls wolf protection a "war on the West" and makes the unsubstantiated claim that "wolf overpopulation is dramatically damaging and even eliminating entire populations of moose, Rocky Mountain elk and other large ungulate populations."

The Legislature should not make tax revenues available as a piggy bank to nongovernmental entities without demanding detailed explanations of where the money goes.




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