December 18, 2014

Public invited to comment on controversial DNR grant

Members of the public will have a chance to sound off this morning, as a state Department of Natural Resources committee considers an application for a $500,000 grant aimed at hunting education.

The Sporting Heritage Grant Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday in Madison to review an application for the grant, which is intended to help provide education to people engaged in hunting, fishing and trapping. The provision was inserted into the state budget at the last minute earlier this year with little comment at the time, but has generated controversy this week after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found only a single group applied for the money.

Critics contend the group, United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation, is a Republican political lobbying organization that has no history of providing the training that’s required to qualify for the grant. The report also showed many conservation groups were not even aware the grant was available until well after applications were due.

State Representative Nick Milroy (D-South Range), a member of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, is among several lawmakers who have called on the DNR to deny the application. Milroy says the process “is an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars and trust” and must be halted immediately.

Late Wednesday afternoon, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp announced the committee would take public testimony on the grant application during its meeting. In a statement, Stepp said “grant applications are normally routine work that the department does all the time, but this issue has gotten some public attention and I have directed the committee to take public testimony.”

Stepp has the final say on the awarding of the grant, after the Sporting Heritage Grant Committee makes a recommendation.

UPDATE: On a 4-1 vote Thursday, the committee recommended that the DNR Secretary approve the grant.