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Editorial: Where’s the money?

Cut off tax funds to anti-wolf group –Salt Lake Tribune, July 7, 2013 (posted 7/10/13)

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Utah taxpayers should demand to know exactly how an anti-wolf-reintroduction group is spending their money.

A report the political action group filed last week reveals next to nothing about what the group Big Game Forever is doing with more than $300,000 the Utah Legislature has handed over to block federal protection of wolves.

That’s a sizable chunk of taxpayer money that has disappeared with virtually nothing to show for it. And legislators are poised to dole out another $300,000, the fourth allocation of state funds made to the group. Big Game Forever received $100,000 in grants in 2010 and 2011 from the state Division of Wildlife Resources’ hunting and fishing license fees.

Big Game Forever makes the kind of claims that attract support from conservative lawmakers who want state control over wolves. But the group provides no receipts for what last year’s $300,000 handout covered.

A legislative audit of the organization is overdue, and Sen. Gene Davis is acting responsibly in calling for an accounting.

Bountiful attorney Ryan Benson organized BGF as a spin-off from the influential political advocacy group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife in April 2010 and has been collecting money from the state ever since. Benson owes taxpayers a half-million-dollar explanation, and the Legislature should put a hold on any more money going to the organization until he comes clean.

It appears the group received last year’s funding as payment for lobbying the Obama administration to remove the gray wolf from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

But the move was well underway before that, and last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the predator, citing the gray wolf’s rebound in the Northern Rockies since it was reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in 1995. The BGF report mostly describes activities that occurred before the year covered in the contract and provides no detailed accounting for the contract year.

The group’s website calls wolf protection a "war on the West" and makes the unsubstantiated claim that "wolf overpopulation is dramatically damaging and even eliminating entire populations of moose, Rocky Mountain elk and other large ungulate populations."

The Legislature should not make tax revenues available as a piggy bank to nongovernmental entities without demanding detailed explanations of where the money goes.

This editorial appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune.

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Please write a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune today, thanking them for this article and expressing outrage at Utah’s tax dollars being spent to enrich Don Peay and his cronies at the expense of education, wolves and the Endangered Species Act.

The letters to the editor page is one of the most widely read, influential parts of the newspaper. One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers.  Tips for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.

Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
Below are a few suggestions for ensuring your message gets through clearly-your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points, so don’t try to use all of these. If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to info@mexicanwolves.org.

Start by thanking the paper for this editorial. This makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.

Convey your outrage at the idea of Big Game Forever receiving taxpayer funds to undermine the Endangered Species Act and spread misinformation about wolves while important programs like education are underfunded.

Tell readers that the funding was recommended by Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, who received $6,500 last year in campaign donations from Don Peay and Ryan Benson, the two men requesting the $300,000.

Inform readers that, at last count, just 75 Mexican gray wolves, including three breeding pairs, survived in the wild.
Yet Don Peay wants to strip protections from this critically endangered animal.

Stress that the majority of Utah residents support wolves and understand their importance. In Utah polling by Bruskotter et al., Utah State University, 74% of respondents displayed a positive attitude toward wolves.

Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you. If you’re a grandmother wanting your grandchildren to have the opportunity to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.

Describe the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife.
Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.

Keep your letter brief, between 150-200 words.

Provide your name, address, occupation, and phone number; your full address, occupation, and phone number will not be published, but they are required in order to have your letter published.

You can email your letter to letters@sltrib.com
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