A Republican state lawmaker is seeking to end conservation department funding for its popular Share the Harvest program.
Rep. Robert Ross, who represents House District 142 which includes Houston, Cabool and portions of Fort Leonard Wood, proposed an amendment to the conservation department's budget that strips all but $1 of MDC funding for Share the Harvest, along with reward money for Operation Game Thief for reporting poachers.
Share the Harvest has been in place for decades and lets deer hunters share some of the meat from their deer with needy Missouri residents. During the latest deer seasons, the Missouri Department of Conservation said hunters donated 348,535 pounds of venison to the Share the Harvest program.
MDC provides $150,000 annually to the Conservation Federation of Missouri, which in turn reimburses some 100 participating meat processors for handling and wrapping donated deer meat. Numerous other outdoors-related businesses also contribute money to the Share the Harvest program.
Aaron Jeffries, MDC's deputy director of outreach and policy, said Ross "zeroed out" all the Share the Harvest money from MDC's budget, along with $7,200 for Operation Game Thief, which encourages people to report poaching and game violations.
He said the Operation Game Thief funds are used to reward people who turn in poachers.
"MDC has partnered for years with CFM to provide funding for both programs, but especially the Share the Harvest program that provides food banks across the state with a high-protein meal for families in need," Jeffries said.
CFM executive director Tyler Schwartze said his organization is the pass-through entity that sends MDC money to deer meat processors participating in the Share the Harvest program.
Monday Morning, Ross sent an email explaining his move, which he described as an effort "to bring accountability of our taxpayer dollars to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
"To be clear, I 100% support ‘Share The Harvest.’ Furthermore, I really believe it should be expanded to include all of the feral hogs that MDC traps, kills, and then leaves rotting on our beautiful landscape," Ross said in his email. " Annually, MDC wastes thousands of pounds of nutritious meat, in addition to their practice being illegal, they are jeopardizing our biological and environmental safety."
Ross said the amendment made in the Appropriations Sub-Committee for Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources was made for two reasons.
"Accountability and Exposure, and thus far it has been a resounding success in accomplishing both," he said. "Unfortunately, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) misuses our tax dollars in multiple ways. Director Sarah Parker-Pauley and her team of 3 taxpayer funded lobbyists, one of which is Aaron Jeffries, mentioned in the article, spend their days and our dollars walking the halls of the Capitol, testifying against any measure which would bring accountability to the department or empower the citizens of Missouri. In addition, MDC also sends our tax dollars to their political front group, the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM), in a scheme to hire additional contracted lobbyists and generate additional opposition to any measure they disagree with......all with our tax dollars!"
"I can personally guarantee that both "Share the Harvest" and "Operation Game Thief" will be funded in this year's budget; but I will ALWAYS fight against government corruption and the misuse of our tax dollars," he added. "I will continue to fight MDC sending our tax dollars through their liberal front group, Conservation Federation of Missouri, which is controlled, manipulated, and utilized for political activism by MDC."
The donated deer meat goes to local food banks and food pantries around the state. According to MDC, since the program began in 1992, it has provided more than 4.3 million pounds of venison to help feed needy Missourians.