The United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation is a step closer to receiving a $500,000 grant from the state, after a DNR committee voted 4-1 Thursday to recommend that the Secretary approve the request.

The decision comes despite concerns from lawmakers and the public about the group’s credentials. The Foundation has no history of providing the training the grant is aimed at, and questions have also been raised about its members’ ties to conservative lobbying groups. The grant process itself has also drawn criticism for not being transparent enough to attract multiple applicants.

Despite those concerns, DNR Executive Assistant Scott Gunderson says the Foundation still meets the legal requirements for the grant, also noting that it was the only organization to apply. Gunderson says the panel has an obligation to “follow the law” and recommend that the Secretary act on the grant request.

AUDIO: Scott Gunderson (:17)

The half million dollar grant was included in the state budget that Governor Scott Walker signed in June. The provision, added late in the budget writing process, directs the DNR to award the money for the purpose of promoting hunting and fishing education and recruitment efforts. Conservation groups have criticized the language of the provision for excluding organizations with national affiliations. Concerns have also been raised that the application deadline was poorly publicized; resulting in many groups that could have qualified not even hearing about it until after the deadline has passed.

Mark LaBarbera of Hazel Green was the only member of the grant committee to vote against awarding the money to United Sportsmen. LaBarbera, an avid hunter himself, said “it didn’t pass the smell test…there’s just something not right about it.”

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp has until September third to act on the grant application.

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