State wildlife officials granted six mountain goat permits under their conservation permit program in fiscal year 2021. A signed bill will make clearer where the proceeds from those auctions go. . (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Since the early 1980s, Utah wildlife officials have donated a portion of their hunting licenses to conservation groups, which auction those licenses off for money that goes to locals. conservation projects.
Groups like Ducks Unlimited, the Mule Deer Foundation or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation participate in this program. They receive rare licenses that are otherwise hard to come by, such as bighorn sheep or bison licenses or hunting units with fewer big game licenses.
It is also divided in proportion to what a license brings in. So the money from a bighorn sheep license goes to bighorn sheep conservation projects. This program has been quite successful in generating funds for conservation projects across the state.
How well? It has generated more than $65 million since 2001, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
“It’s been one of the significant success stories here, reallocating wildlife dollars to conservation,” Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, said at the start of the 2022 legislative session in Utah.
This practice is not going to stop anytime soon; however, a bill Governor Spencer Cox signed into law this week makes technical changes that clarify where the money is going. HB78 is establishing what is called a wildlife conservation fund, where the proceeds from these auctions will go.
It’s the product of a recent audit that recommended the change to improve the transparency of the program, according to Snider, who sponsored the bill.
“Sunlight is always the best medicine for everything we do here, especially when it comes to taxpayers’ money – and more importantly when it comes to the taxpayers’ money generated from taxpayer resources, what wildlife is specifically,” he said in January. “(The fund) allows the public to see every step of the process.”
In 2020, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources issued 326 permits to conservation partners, less than 2% of all permits that year. These permits were then sold at auction, generating $5.2 million. A more recent report noted that 293 permits brought in an additional $6.1 million in 2021.
About 60% of the profits went to groups with projects approved by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, while about 30% went to the division itself. The remaining 10% went to conservation groups for administrative costs, according to a final review of the process.
The 2020 audit found nothing harmful in the program. All permits reviewed were paid, money went to the right places for already approved projects and everything was paid on time.
But the audit suggested a fund or something similar to help track money coming in and going out.
Riley Peck, a biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said it was unclear whether the money was classified as dedicated credits or consumable receipts. The former means money collected by an agency that funds the operations of the agency; the latter means recoveries by an agency for expenses that are “limited by a non-state entity providing the funds,” according to the state.
In simpler terms, it was not clear enough where the money was going and what it was used for.
The audit recommended that these funds be instead classified as earmarked revenue, which are collections that are paid into a “separate fund, sub-fund or account designated for a specific program or purpose”, in accordance with the law of the United States. ‘State.
One of the stipulations of HB78 is that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will report to the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Subcommittee on the amount of money in the fund, as well only where the money comes from and how it is spent.
“This would allow for greater transparency and easier tracking of these funds,” Peck said.
Snider proposed a similar bill last year, but time ran out in the 2021 legislative session before it could pass.
The bill passed easily through the Utah Legislature after being introduced much earlier this year, receiving unanimous votes in both houses. Cox then signed the bill on Tuesday.
A report from the Office of the Legislative Tax Analyst found that the new law will have no tax impact. It will simply place the funds in a central location.
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