St. Paul (AP) – Two state investigations will probe the DNR’s
spending and fundraising that helped a game wardens conference turn
a profit despite low attendance and weak private fundraising.
The Star Tribune reported Monday that the DNR’s Enforcement
Division used $196,000 in state money and about $187,000 in staff
salaries for the gathering of game wardens from across North
America. Some of the state’s conservation officers also solicited
private donations for the conference and were required to attend.
Officers were paid, and those from outside the metro area stayed in
downtown hotels at state expense.
State records show that thanks in part to the DNR’s help,
organizers of the 26th annual North American Wildlife Enforcement
Officers Association Convention earned a $76,600 profit – even
though far fewer people than expected came for the three days of
training and entertainment. The state didn’t share in the
One DNR manager was so opposed to the state’s involvement that
he resigned the day before the conference.
DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said an agency internal auditor
will review conference spending and fundraising. He said he
supported Minnesota’s hosting of the event, and that “on the
surface” what was done seems legal. But he said there are
conflicting views at the agency on the legality of employees
soliciting money on state time for such an event.
The state Legislative Auditor also will investigate, said Rep.
Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, who serves on legislative
committees that oversee the DNR and is also chairman of the
Legislative Audit Commission.
The game warden conference is held in a different state every
year, and is considered a plum for the resources agency in the host
state or province. Col. Mike Hamm, the director of the DNR
Enforcement Division, led the effort to bring the 2007 conference
to Minnesota. His wife, Capt. Cathy Hamm, a DNR enforcement
division supervisor, was a key organizer. In 2005, she was part of
a three-member DNR team that spent $7,400 in state funds to travel
to British Columbia to make Minnesota’s successful bid.
Former DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam, who left office at the end
of 2006, said he supported hosting the conference but didn’t
authorize state funding for it. A deputy commissioner authorized
the money in 2007; Hamm said no line-item for the event appeared in
the DNR budget, but that other DNR officials knew state money would
“I don’t think anybody knew the final dollars until they came
out, so I fully understand the surprise at the end,” Col. Hamm
The conference “was a wise use of taxpayers’ dollars,” Hamm
said, because Minnesota officers received better training than they
get at annual sessions held at Camp Ripley.
A financial report Hamm prepared last year said if Minnesota
hadn’t paid to send all its COs, “this conference would not have
been successful.” In addition to training sessions, the conference
also offered fishing on Lake Mille Lacs, a boat cruise, and a fish
Under a profit-sharing formula that excluded the state, about a
third of the profit went to the Minnesota Conservation Officers
Association, the conference’s local host, and the union
representing most conservation officers. The rest went to the
8,000-member international game wardens group known as NAWEOA.
Former DNR official Perry Bollum, the now-retired head of the
wetland enforcement program, said he refused to do conference
planning or fundraising because it took time away from protecting
natural resources. Bollum left the agency a day before the
conference, taking early retirement after a 31-year career. He said
the event shouldn’t reflect badly on field COs.
“This was not their idea; it was a management idea,” Bollum
said. “Unfortunately, these are the kinds of things that go on in
DNR when managers put self-promotion and their egos and political
gains ahead of sound ethical business decisions.”