DNR may join charity effort
Written by The Mining Journal   
Tuesday, 08 February 2005 10:13
LANSING - The Michigan Department of Natural Resources would join with hunters and anglers to help feed the hungry under a revived legislative initiative.

"As a hunter myself, I took a look at this bill and I think this is a great way for hunters to be able not only to enjoy the sport, but make a positive contribution to those in need," said Rep. Dave Hildenbrand, D-Lowell.

Originally proposed by former Rep. Sal Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, Hildenbrand's bill would establish a program in which the DNR would collect donations of game, including deer and fish, and contract out to have it processed. The food would then be distributed to food banks across the state.

In addition, hunters and anglers would have the option of making a tax-deductible donation of $1 to the program when purchasing licenses, with the money placed in a state Sportsmen Against Hunger fund.

The bill passed the House last year but didn't reach a Senate vote.

Some officials in the DNR and other organizations like the Michigan United Conservation Club question the need to fold the Detroit-based Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger program into the DNR.

Since 1991, the private non-profit program has provided donations of money and game to 10 food banks around the state that each serves more than one county. The group distributed more than 50,000 pounds of game - primarily venison - in 2004.

Deer hunters bagged more than 26 million pounds of venison last year, according to the DNR.

Rodney Stokes, legislative liaison for the DNR, said he has concerns that the bill would set a precedent for the agency to solicit contributions on behalf of non-profit organizations and has asked the department's Wildlife and Administrative divisions to examine the proposal.

"This is something that would really be out of the ordinary for our department and that's why I'm asking our divisions to really take a close look at this, so that when we pull our analysis together we really have a sound basis for whether to support or not support this," Stokes said.

"Our concerns are whether other non-profits would want the same thing, and to see if this is something the department wants to be involved with and, of course, will it cost anything?"

It is unclear how much the program would cost, but Hildenbrand said the goal is to make it cost neutral for the DNR.

"This may be something where we start off with a trial period of a year or so to see how much it would bring in," he said.

According to Sportsmen Against Hunger President Louis Krick, the bill is patterned after one in Virginia that gave hunters and anglers the option of donating $2 to a similar program and generated between $200,000 and $300,000 in the first year.

Hildenbrand said making the program part of the DNR would increase the network of processors and funding.

"With this bill, the organization would be able to piggyback on the network of DNR processors and use the relationships that are already out there," he said. "But it would also help the program with a funding source."

Michigan hunters and anglers are facing increased hunting and fishing fees beginning March 1, so it's unclear how well the program would be supported this year.

Donna Stine, MUCC's assistant director of policy, said the group is concerned about contracts to process the game and gifts or donations to any particular group, even though MUCC is a partner in the current program.

Rep. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba - chairman of the Conservation, Forestry and Outdoor Recreation Committee - said he's concerned about setting up a food distribution program if it's the DNR that does most of the legwork.

"There is definitely a chance for some great community effort with this program," he said. "But I think it needs to be open-ended at the local level with the DNR playing a minor role."

Hildenbrand's bill is pending in Casperson's committee.

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