Madison — The Sporting Heritage Council (SHC) is trying to get back on the mentoring track after the nightmare of the $500,000 grant that was awarded to the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation (USWF).
The grant was cancelled by Gov. Scott Walker after USWF did not have the required tax documents to receive the grant.
Then the USWF president and representative on the SHC (Andy Pantzlaff, of Maribel) resigned from the council, at the request of other members, due to a past bear hunting violation.
Ralph Fritsch, SHC member representing the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, set the tone for the Oct. 24 meeting when he said that what the council went through “was a fiasco.” He had never received so many phone calls from people concerned about what happened.
Fritsch added that the grant could now be in jeopardy and he thought that the entire $28 million that the DNR receives from the federal government via the Pittman-Robertson (P-R) sporting arms and ammunition excise tax could have been jeopardized.
“I believe in moving forward, but I got my *&$!@ kicked on this,” said a clearly unhappy and upset Fritsch.
DNR Executive Assistant Scott Gunderson chairs the SHC. He said the DNR did not craft the legislation and said the agency flagged potential concerns over losing P-R funds in the way the legislation was first presented. But, he said losing the federal funds was never in doubt because Walker, in approving the budget, switched out the proposed use of P-R money for the grant to state tax money.
Joe Caputo, SHC member representing the Conservation Congress, echoed Fritsch’s frustrations and asked for a voice vote to encourage the DNR and the Legislature in support of a grant to support recruitment of hunters, anglers, and trappers.
It became clear there are two potential ways to fund grants: one from state tax revenues and another from federal P-R dollars. The first would require the state to designate scarce tax dollars for grants and the second would require that the DNR come up with the program, but without legislative backing. Then P-R funds could be used legally.
Council members also favored smaller grants to several groups rather than one large grant to just one group.
Rep. Nick Milroy (D-South Range) said that he thought the SHC needed to voice its support that the $200,000 put in the budget for a 2013 grant, but then canceled by the governor, be declared still available. He thought what was needed was a message to the Legislature to rewrite the rules so that groups still could receive this money.
Caputo agreed, saying the SHC needed to go on record.
Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn), though, said that the SHC is not a legislative body and he urged the council to tread cautiously.
Caputo and Fritsch wanted a vote in order to show the public where the SHC stands.
“A nod is not sufficient,” Caputo said.
Ben Gruber, SHC member representing angling groups, supported the idea of making a recommendation.
Gunderson, a former legislator, then sided with Kedzie and said the SHC is not meant to be political and that he understood Kedzie’s concerns. It is also his view that the $200,000 went back into the general fund and is no longer available for a mentoring grant.
Gunderson said the DNR could instead put together a program of $100,000 a year from P-R funds.
Tim Andryk, DNR legal counsel, said that use of federal P-R funds is possible, but that money cannot be legally used via legislative action. The initiative must come from the DNR, he said.
There remained a difference of opinion over whether the $200,000 intended for the USWF this fiscal year is still available.
Daryl Hinz, of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, was in the room and was asked his opinion as to whether the money is still there. He indicated the answer to that question is still in limbo.
Milroy insisted that the money is there. He said hunters and anglers are also taxpayers and it would not be good to lose that money. He said if the Legislature can fix the grant this session the money could still be spent. He wanted to see a recommendation from the SHC.
Finally Fritsch made the motion, seconded by Mark LaBarbera, that, “The Sporting Heritage Council recommends that the DNR move forward with a grant program aimed at hunter recruitment and retention and asks that the Legislature review the grant program that was included in the 2013-14 budget.”
The motion passed unanimously and no member announced that he abstained from voting.
Milroy reiterated that they need a strong recommendation to fix the budget before the money runs out.
Earlier in the meeting, the committee heard from Kevin Naze, of Algoma, a freelance outdoors writer who manages the Hunters Network of Wisconsin website.
Naze said that the website (www.huntersnetwork.org) promotes the retention and recruitment of hunters. He is looking for more people to “friend” the site.
“This site can be a clearinghouse for hunting, and we all need to bring some of that mystery and magic of hunting back,” Naze said.
During the meeting, it was noted that:
- Three applications have been received to replace Pantzlaff on the SHC. All applicants are now being checked for past conservation violations. The applications will be forwarded to the Natural Resources Board (NRB), which is expected to name Pantzlaff’s replacement in December.
- If money from taxpayer funds is used for a mentoring program this fiscal year, it is only good for the current budget because future legislators’ hands are not tied by current legislative decisions.
- The grant in the current 2013-15 budget included $200,000 in general tax revenues, and the $300,000 for the following year would have had to come out of DNR operating revenues. If that were to come from state hunting and fishing license money, that would preclude any future use of federal P-R funds.
- The SHC, which was created to give ideas and advice to the NRB, Legislature, and governor, is required to give a report by July 1, 2014.