By James Beers:
A stunning maneuver by the federal government was recently brought to my attention. While it is directed at the government of the State of Montana concerning shooting ranges; there is a much broader precedent establishment being attempted that concerns every state official and every rural resident that farms, grazes, hunts, fishes, traps, owns animals and/or owns property or recreates in myriad ways on both public and private rural landscapes.
* Since 1987 Montana Shooting Sports Association and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have partnered to make about $25 M in grants available to local shooting ranges. This wildly popular program has made a huge difference in the availability of safe and suitable places for Montanans to shoot and practice gun (and by extension hunter) safety.
* Early in the program, federal funding was sought but insurmountable red tape from several federal sources made such funding impractical. For more than a decade, in-state hunting license fees were used to fund the program
* The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has always administered the program and this was confirmed in a State Statute in 1999.
* State funding budgets are confirmed every two years (the Legislature meets every two years).
* In the last two funding cycles, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has diverted nearly all of this funding from the State budget for other purposes not budgeted by the Legislature such as employee pay raises.
* This year the State Legislature is considering proposing putting the money they authorize for shooting ranges into a separate account to be used ONLY for shooting ranges.
* The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks objects to this, claiming it violates the Pittman Robertson (Wildlife Restoration) Act that is the basis for federal collection of Excise Taxes on guns, ammunition, archery paraphernalia and certain imports. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks notified the US Fish and Wildlife Service Excise Tax administrators who have threatened to deny all Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration funds (over $27M last year) if the State tells their own agency where to spend the money they authorize for shooting ranges. As a result, the State’s own wildlife agency is fixing to oppose the State legislature and Governor’s exercise of their duly elected and sworn duty to exercise oversight and set priorities OVER THEIR OWN EMPLOYEES WORKING IN THE STATE AGENCY THEY ESTABLISHED, AUTHORIZED, FUND AND FOR WHICH THEY (THE LEGISLATURE AND GOVERNOR) ARE THE SOURCE OF THEIR POWER AND CONTINUING OPERATION.
FURTHER FEDERAL BACKGROUND:
* The US Fish and Wildlife Service Office that was notified by the State agency was the Federal Aid Program. This State Excise Tax oversight office is the very office that “saw no evil, heard no evil, and said no evil” twenty years ago when their political bosses stole $45 to 60M of the Excise Taxes from the state agencies (and you and me and our wildlife programs financed by our license dollars and equipment purchases) and then used the money secretly to capture Canadian wolves and release them in Yellowstone plus open a new office in California to all but share space with the environmental extremist and animal rights radical organizations that were replacing the historic wildlife management and wildlife users organizations as federal partners. Both the wolves and the office had been turned down by Congress and were refused authorization before the appointees, bureaucrats and the administration decided to simply steal the money, release the wolves and build the new office anyway.
* This federal office oversees the operation of state wildlife agencies for compliance with Excise Tax uses named as “eligible” in the law and the operation of the state wildlife agency activities and uses of license revenue to remain eligible for their annual share or “Apportionment” of available Excise Taxes based on their area and the sale of hunting licenses in the state. Historic violations included Excise Tax or license dollars used to purchase vehicles for state motor pools; or such funds used to pay state parks’ employees; or hatchery fish or upland birds released on the private property of donors and politicians; or lands purchased with such funds used to build a prison; or revenue from timber sales on such lands put in the General Treasury; or selling wildlife for profit. These are examples of “diversions” and were supposed to be detected by audits by the overseers every five years as required by the law. Despite this requirement, the twenty years preceding the theft of the $45 to 60M were marked by the all-but disappearance of any audits, a hiatus that was welcomed by federal and state bureaucrats as their working “relationship” became closer and closer and more and more “informal”. When the theft of the money was exposed by a Government ACCOUNTING Office Audit, an audit firm was hired to audit every state wildlife agency and then to re-establish a 5-year cycle as required by law, corruption again reared its ugly head. Less than 3 years into the audits, the auditors had had found millions of dollars in “diversions”; the states were screaming (quietly); and federal bureaucrats wanted no more scandals: so the auditors were fired for being “behind schedule” and the Interior Department Inspector General who was simultaneously responsible for overseeing US Fish and Wildlife Service (?) was then “hired” to resume the audits. Needless to say, the “diversions” were evidently “mistakes” and never reported; and that particular Inspector General was introduced later by President Obama at his first State of the Union as the “New Inspector General for the Stimulus Program” that consisted of billions and which, like the state PR audits, was found to be as pure as the driven snow.
* An “Acting Chief” of the above Office responded to the letter from the Director of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks about shooting ranges and how those mean old Legislators and the Governor were about to tell the all-wise and smarter-than-everybody-else agency what to do! Imagine! Well, the
“Acting” (federal) Chief in what can only be described as an arrogant and laughable (if everyone rolls over for him) way said in his “view” (??) such administration by the State elected officials would “render Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks ineligible for further participation in the benefits (i.e. Excise Tax funding) of the (Wildlife and Sport Fish Program)”.
He told the downtrodden State Director that, in “our (federal government?, USFWS?, Solicitor?, a frog in his pocket?) view the (sic Montana) FWP would suffer a loss of control of its hunting and fishing license revenues” if the proposed bill was passed. All the State Director does is to tell the State officials that he will therefore be compelled to oppose the attempt by the Governor and Legislature to tell him (and “his” employees) what to do or how to do it. The fact that the State Director offered no blowback to the federal threat is, take my word, a clue.
Two reasons given for this federal threat to deny any future Excise Tax sharing are taken from the Code of Federal Regulations govern the PR Act in the letter:
1.) “Revenue from hunting and fishing licenses (must) be controlled only by the State Fish and Wildlife Agency.”
Does this mean that the Governor or Legislature cannot set priorities and expenditures for lawful and eligible Wildlife and Fisheries activities? Of course not! Can anyone argue that this Excise Tax program for conservation has contained within it for over 70 years an authority for federal bureaucrats to not merely assure that State governments did not MISUSE Excise Tax and Licenses dollars BUT TO DENY STATE GOVERNMENTS ANY ROLE IN THE ACTIVITIES AND PRIORITIES THEREOF FOR THEIR WILDLIFE AGENCY TO PURSUE JUST, LEGITIMATE AND ELIGIBLE (UNDER THE PR ACT) FISH AND WILDLIFE PROJECTS (that both the Act and the State agency share and agree on? Since when did the responsibility to assure compliance intended to protect “Eligible Uses” of Excise Tax and License dollars morph into a federal bureaucrat power to tell the duly elected officials of a State government to stand down because the federal bureaucrats doesn’t agree with their and the people of the state’s priorities?
2.) “Revenues from hunting and fishing licenses can only be used for administration of the State fish and wildlife agency which includes only the functions required to manage the agency and the fish and wildlife related resources for which the agency has authority under State law” and, “A State becomes ineligible to receive the benefits of the Act if it diverts hunting and fishing license revenue from purposes other than the agency’s administration.” Really?
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks was given the administration authority over shooting ranges by the Montana Legislature in 1999.
But, I am sure you are thinking, what about the federal view of shooting ranges especially in these days of gun control hysterics and the most anti-gun administration in my lifetime?
The PR Act and the Regulations promulgated under it define “Eligible Uses” of Excise Tax dollars and license revenues as “Constructing, operating and maintaining recreational firearms shooting and archery ranges” right alongside other eligible uses such as, “Management of wild bird and mammal populations”, “Managing wildlife habitat”, and “Providing public use that benefits from Wildlife Resources”.
So the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has the authority to manage shooting ranges and shooting ranges in totality are an “eligible use” under the federal Act and under State law, and the Governor and Legislature simply want more emphasis on it and for the agency to stop diverting shooting range money from where the State Legislators direct. How does the federal bureaucrat suggest they do that other than what they are considering? Will the federal bureaucrat pay for it like “the People” want? Will the federal bureaucrat even allow the Governor and State Legislature to even speak with these ostensible crybaby employees or will they just get their priorities from Washington henceforth? Federal priorities for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, given their way, span everything from wolves and grizzly “management” in accord with federal dictates to fooling a hostile Montana public into allowing federal “free-roaming buffalo” to be loosed like Yellowstone wolves once were and for eventually the State to “assume management” (how sweet that sounds) of the latest federal imposition following federal dictates on rural Montana in cahoots with State employees. All that takes money and Lord knows Montanans may want shooting ranges but federal bureaucrats want gun control and control of these ostensible “State” agencies AND their license revenue And their Excise Tax dollars to do what Montanans are obviously too dense to realize they should be doing if only they could see “the big picture”.
Finally, I had some extraneous, but I believe relevant, thoughts as I wrote this:
* I note that the State agency is “preparing to argue against HB 234”. This plus their request to federal overseers and then the absence of any blowback by the state agency to argue for the State (and evidently NOT the State agency’s) position leads me to believe that this State agency (like many others) is much more of a federal subcontractor agency than a State Agency. As Struther Martin said in the movie Cool Hand Luke, I think that regarding the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; the Governor and Legislature have “a failure to communicate”.
* State agencies are generally reluctant to identify with “shooting ranges” in these days of national and international environmental and animal rights “awareness”. Shooting Ranges are generally like Trapping and Animal Control in these regards in that they anger those out to eliminate hunting and fishing and do things like loose free-roaming buffalo on rural Americans.
* Wolves and grizzlies and like critters are loosed on a rural populace by federal bureaucrats and then “turned over” to state (is it their governments or one of these “independent” agencies???) management. This federally mandated management of these animals is expensive and the federal bureaucrats and State bureaucrats WANT FULL CONTROL OF ALL STATE FUNDS AND PRIORITIES WITHOUT ANY ACCOUNTABILITY TO STATE GOVERNMENTS OR STATE TAXPAYERS. This is not unrelated to these federal PR bureaucrats and State agency bureaucrats colluding to do just that with STATE LICENSE FUNDING EXPENDITURES AND PRIORITIES.
* Federal bureaucrats these days accrue significant political and career benefits from enacting ways to further restrict gun uses, gun availability and ammunition supplies. Examples are – The secret negotiations by the State Department under Clinton and Kerry to negotiate a UN Small Arms Treaty that will shrink or abolish the 2nd Amendment. The Fast and Furious federal gun-running scheme into Mexico intended to create justification for more gun control that has never been explained. Closure by EPA of the last lead smelter in the US. Continuous statements by the President and Attorney General about the need to register and confiscate guns, etc……. Is it not possible that any federal bureaucrats that can establish a PRECEDENT to abolish any vestige of State control of their state wildlife agency, or their state wildlife license revenue, or such agency’s activities, AND SIMULTANEOUSLY POINT THE WAY ON HOW TO STOP AND REVERSE THE GROWTH OF SHOOTING RANGES might not at least be in line for a bonus and maybe an eventual promotion and all that portends? I do not doubt that this is involved in this whole tug of war between the government of Montana on the one hand and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks & US Fish and Wildlife Service “partners” on the other.
Consider YOUR State wildlife agency. It gets Excise Taxes and dances to a federal tune that is steadily pushing YOU and YOUR STATE GOVERNMENT out of the picture. If Montana succumbs here; whether because of State employees that serve Washington and not your state government or because of federal bureaucrats that have silenced your organizations and are working so closely with your enemies that you won’t see what is happening until it is too late is immaterial: you will be like that lonesome German noted in the early 1940’s, “when they came for me, no one was there”. Truly we are all Montanans in these regards.
Allow me two analogies: State wildlife agencies are becoming like that famous horse Lincoln once noted was bucking and got his foot caught in the stirrup and his rider (the Governor, Legislature and people of the state) leaned over and told him if he will just calm down, “I will get off so you can get up”.
The federal agencies (US Fish and Wildlife Service with its ESA and easement schemes with radicals; the US Forest Service with its Roadless/Wilderness/Grazing Shutdowns/Logging & Timber Management Elimination; BLM with its Bundy Fiascoes and selective use and management shutdowns; and National Park Service with its Viewsheds/Historic Zones/Total anti-natural resource management and use mission) are like Oscar Wilde’s famous Picture of Dorian Gray. He was an outwardly handsome and wealthy man that made a pact with the devil that his secret life of corruption and vice would only be noted on a painting of himself hidden away in his attic while he stayed forever young and spotless. Just as Dorian met an horrific end, so too will these federal agencies that are operating on a no longer real image that was once true but any longer simply conceals an existence of harm to people and abuse of power that will eventually end in something much worse than anyone imagines.
17 February 2015
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Jim Beers is a retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC. He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC. He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority. He resides in Eagan, Minnesota with his wife of many decades.
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