||Star Tribune – Online
Opponents like the Star Tribune are looking for ‘gotchas’ but can’t find any.
The Star Tribune continues its witch hunt against the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.
In the most recent example of the newspaper’s futile search for perceived conflicts of interest among citizen volunteers who serve on the advisory council, the Star Tribune focused on longtime Minnesota conservation champion Ron Schara.
The resulting article (“State panel member has ties to group getting funds,” Sept. 24) was both unfair and misleading.
Schara is popularly known for hosting outdoor TV shows and for previously writing an outdoors column for the Star Tribune. We know Ron well and find him to be a man of principle and one who is committed to conserving the state’s best forests, prairies, lakes and rivers for wildlife and for Minnesotans.
The Star Tribune looked into Ron’s role as on-air host and executive producer of Pheasants Forever Television and questioned whether it presents any conflicts with his service on the council. Here’s what the paper found:
• “Schara gets no money from Pheasants Forever.”
• Ron Schara Productions, the company that Schara sold and now works for, “takes no money from Pheasants Forever.”
So, what’s the problem? We’re not sure. What we do know is that in every instance in which Schara voted on a Pheasants Forever project, at least three other council members voted to provide more money.
When you add it all up, Ron’s support for Pheasants Forever projects is not any different from that of other council members. Four members voted to provide more funding for Pheasant Forever projects, while another voted to provide the same amount.
The fact is, there is no evidence that any council members’ actions have violated state law or that they’ve personally benefited in any way by recommending particular projects.
The other point to keep in mind is that all of the nonprofit organizations that submit proposals to the council are looking only to cover the cost of conservation work that would not otherwise happen.
They also frequently raise private money to help pay for these projects. They submit invoices, receipts and other documentation to the state and are subject to state audit.
The council itself is composed of four lawmakers (including us) and eight citizen conservation leaders. Our job is to vet conservation projects submitted by conservation groups as well as by local, state and federal government. The process is open, transparent and competitive.
The council sends its recommendations to the Legislature, which has the ultimate say. The council has done such a great job, however, that state lawmakers have largely approved its recommendations.
Minnesotans overwhelmingly approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which, in full disclosure, the Star Tribune Editorial Board opposed.
Minnesotans backed the amendment because they wanted to preserve our drinking water, conserve our most significant natural areas and make our Great Outdoors more accessible to the public with park and trail improvements.
Thanks to the council’s expert and thorough review, the initial investments that have been made in conserving key lands and waters bode well for Minnesota’s future.
We believe the Star Tribune and its readers would be better served by the newspaper reporting on the actual work that’s being funded with Legacy dollars rather than to continue to do the bidding of those who want the council to fail.
The bottom line is quite impressive.
In just its first two years, the council has recommended projects that will conserve, restore or enhance more than 250,000 acres of Minnesota’s best lands and waters ranging across the state from our northern forests to our western prairies and everywhere in between.
Take a look for yourself by visiting the council’s website at www.lsoch.leg.mn and downloading the 2011 Outdoor Heritage Fund Annual Report.
Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, is a member of the Minnesota House.
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Amendment money is helping some offbeat efforts.
State panel member has ties to group getting funds
Ron Schara, a popular outdoors media personality, says he has no conflict in hosting “Pheasants Forever Television” while voting on the group’s requests for state money.