FRANKFORT — Lawmakers peppered staff of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Thursday about a potential ethics violation involving lucrative elk hunting permits that are used as fund-raisers for non-profit groups.
Legislators also raised questions about an agreement that calls for Kentucky to give Missouri 150 elk over the next three years in exchange for crappie to restock Kentucky lakes. The Government Contract Review Committee has never seen a contract between the two states allowing the wildlife exchange.
Marcheta Sparrow, secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, confirmed after Tuesday's meeting that there is a complaint before the Executive Branch Ethics Commission regarding the awarding of charitable elk hunting licenses.
Lawmakers had questioned why the nine-member commission that oversees Fish and Wildlife decided to award three elk hunting permits to a non-profit group with ties to current and former commissioners when state regulations appear to say a non-profit may receive only one elk hunting permit.
The elk hunting permits can generate as much as $100,000 in raffles and auctions.
Sparrow said the cabinet is looking into allegations that elk hunting permits for non-profits were handled incorrectly. "We don't believe there is any intentional malfeasance," Sparrow said.
Fish and Wildlife is connected to the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet for planning purposes. All Fish and Wildlife funding is generated through federal grants or fees generated by sportsmen.
Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, questioned why the Fish and Wildlife commission voted to give three elk hunting permits to the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation, a non-profit who had a sitting Fish and Wildlife commissioner on its board of directors.
According to the statute, the commission can grant up to 10 elk hunting licenses to non-profits. But the statute specifies "a" elk hunting permit to a non-profit, not three, Yonts said.
At the time the elk hunting permits were granted to Appalachian Wildlife Foundation, an ex-Fish and Wildlife commissioner was also on the foundation's board, legislators said. The sitting commissioner later resigned from the foundation, said Karen Waldrop, the wildlife division director for Fish and Wildlife.
Waldrop said department attorneys had reviewed the issue and found no problems.
After questions arose about granting the hunting permits, Fish and Wildlife changed its regulations to clarify how permits can be distributed. Those regulations are pending before a different legislative committee.
Yonts also questioned why the contract review committee, which is charged with overseeing most government contracts, never saw the memorandum of understanding between Kentucky and Missouri regarding the transfer of elk to Missouri.
Many sportsmen, whose license fees support Fish and Wildlife, have complained about the transfer of elk to other states.
But Waldrop told the committee that it was a cooperating agreement between Kentucky and Missouri and not a memorandum of understanding.