Fish and Wildlife issues are troubling

Published 5:30 am Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources does a lot of good for those who love to hunt and fish.

On a yearly basis, it teaches youths about conservation and how to handle a firearm safely. It teaches them how to fish and an array of other worthwhile things, and the department and its staff should be commended for doing so.

Additionally, game wardens who work for the department perform a very important and sometimes dangerous job while out in the field. They ensure that hunters and fishermen have licenses and proper registration and insurance for boating. They also cite or arrest the bad guys who fail to abide by our state laws, whether it be baiting a dove field, killing over their bag limit or keeping too many fish or undersized fish.

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We admire the job these game wardens do on a daily basis.

But last month, a scathing audit came out of state Auditor Mike Harmon’s office in which he questioned funds spent on alcohol, meals, prepaid debit cards and outside contracts that were poorly monitored. Earlier last year, a state ethics panel charged two supervisors at Fish and Wildlife with interfering with an investigation of a member of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, who himself was charged with obstructing legal duck hunting near his property in Franklin County by dumping corn along a creek.

In his December audit, Harmon said Fish and Wildlife officials promoted their agency as receiving no tax dollars from the state’s General Fund. However, it still should be held accountable because it receives about $70 million a year in public funds, Harmon said, including state hunting and fishing fees and federal grants that come from taxes on outdoor activities.

This audit by Harmon seems to be very thorough and precise and shows that real change is needed at the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission.

We hoped for change on the commission after Harmon’s scathing report, but it appears there will be no change, unfortunately. Here’s why: They hired within the department a member of the wildlife commission. It has been announced that Rick Storm is the new commissioner of the wildlife commission. Here’s the problem: He was the insider who interviewed the job applicants for the position he now holds.

Some Kentucky sportsmen are publicly protesting Storm’s hiring from within, saying that Harmon’s critical audit — only the latest in a series of problems at Fish and Wildlife — is clear evidence that changes are needed at the agency.

Retired Army Col. Michael Abell said that he was one of three finalists for the commissioner’s job. When he was informed by email Dec. 21 that he had not been chosen, Abell said, he assumed one of the other finalists was hired, and since they both were qualified, he did not think much more of it.

But when he learned Storm, who interviewed him for the job, had been picked, that offended him.

“They just got this audit calling for a change,” Abell said. “Mr. Storm has been a part of leadership over there. So how do you have a change in culture when you’re putting him in charge?”

We couldn’t have said it any better than Abell. Putting someone in charge of the wildlife commission such as Storm will just be more of the same.

This really is a public relations nightmare for the wildlife commission. There is no transparency in the current culture of the wildlife commission and this hiring simply makes it look worse. They need to strongly reconsider the hiring of Storm and hire someone who is unaffiliated with the commission and who will actually turn things around, not keep things the same.

The Daily News of Bowling Green