A closer look at Wisconsin’s $500,000 Sporting Heritage grant fiasco
What’s the best way to get your favorite project funded?
Make friends with a state legislator in the majority party, because the minority simply sits on the sidelines and watches. Then get him or her to get the Joint Finance Committee to slip your project into the state budget at the last minute – just ahead of the governor’s signature.
That’s what took place for the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation (USWF). Someone tailored a $500,000 grant for the group and placed it in the new 2013-15 state budget – and with specifications so that practically nobody other than the USWF either qualified or knew that the grant even existed.
Then they put restrictions on who could get the money in the form of a grant and said stipulated that applications were due within 30 days of the new budget being signed. Most of the conservation groups in Wisconsin (local chapters of NWTF, RMEF, PF, DU, RGS, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, etc.) were written out of the grant and couldn’t even compete even if they had known about the grant.
Next the DNR turned the announcement of the grant over to its grant bureau. They knew that this would just be put up on the DNR web page, as if every resident of the state has the duty of checking the DNR web page each day.
Scott Gunderson, DNR executive assistant and a past legislator, cringes at doing business in front of the public. Even at the Sporting Heritage Council grant committee meeting he indicated his true feelings when a TV cameraman interrupted testimony to adjust a microphone, and Gunderson said: “Leave it to the media to screw things up again.”
The DNR knew, or should have known, that a news release is a basic building block of good public relations and by putting out a statewide news release, conservation groups would have been alerted to this grant. Groups such as the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association and others would have been alerted and had a fair chance of submitting a bid for a grant.
The grant was no small potatoes, as it would have totaled $500,000 over the two-year biennium.
Unfortunately things don’t change much no matter whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge. We saw that with Jim Doyle’s heavy-handed tactics. They each do their best to keep the other party from participating and ram through what they want. Politics today is full steam ahead hardball, without the merits of compromise or discussion.
The moral of the story is that it is always best to keep politicians out of natural resource management. The public, and especially the Natural Resources Board, needs to be back in control. People who have the best interests of managing natural resources and not feathering the nest of their political buddies need to be making decisions about natural resources policies and funding.