Utah expo permit and conservation funding
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Utah expo permit and conservation funding

Answers to frequently asked questions about the expo permit program

In recent weeks, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has received feedback and questions about how the Wildlife Expo Permit Program contract was awarded. Inaccurate rumors, accusations and misinformation circulate about both the program and the process of awarding the contract. To address these concerns and provide accurate information to the public, we developed a list of common questions and answers. We will add to this list as needed.

Frequently asked questions

Answers to the questions above

Q1: What is the Wildlife Expo Permit Program?

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) operates the Wildlife Expo Permit Program, which has two primary purposes:

  • To generate revenue to fund wildlife conservation activities in Utah.
  • To attract a regional or national wildlife exposition to Utah.

As part of this program, the Utah Wildlife Board authorizes up to 200 hunting permits (expo permits) per year that are allocated to hunters through a public drawing held at a wildlife exposition.

Q2: Who can be awarded expo permits and what does that contract allow them to do?

The group selected to distribute expo permits must be a wildlife conservation organization. That organization is then allowed to award the expo permits at its annual convention through a public drawing. The organization does not receive the rights to use any prior expo organizer’s event name, venue dates, exhibitors or scheduled events and activities.

Q3: What are the possible economic benefits of a wildlife expo?

The largest wildlife expo currently held in Utah is the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo, which has been an annual event in downtown Salt Lake City since 2007. This particular expo delivers a multimillion-dollar economic benefit to the State of Utah and its businesses. The 2016 Western Hunting & Conservation Expo had more than 40,000 attendees from all 50 states, 12 countries and five continents.

Q4: Which conservation groups have held the expo permit contract?

Since the Wildlife Expo Permit Program began in 2007, three separate expo permit contracts have been awarded. The first contract went to the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep in 2007, and the second one went to the Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) in 2011. The most recent expo permit contract — which will run from 2017–2021 — was awarded to Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (SFW) in December 2015. SFW will partner with MDF and the Utah Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (UFNAWS) during this contract period.

Q5: Where does the money from the application fees go?

Hunters are charged a $5.00 per-permit application fee when they apply in the expo permit drawing. The DWR must approve in advance how 30 percent of these funds are spent. Expo organizers must spend the remaining 70 percent on policies, programs, projects and personnel that support conservation initiatives in Utah. All of the application fee revenue benefits wildlife conservation in Utah.

Q6: Where does the money from the permit fees go?

When an applicant is selected to receive an expo permit, he or she must pay the regular permit fee that all other hunters in Utah must pay. Expo organizers have never received any of the permit fees charged for the 200 expo permits. One-hundred percent of those funds have always gone directly to the DWR.

Q7: Was there an open public process to determine how the Wildlife Expo Permit Program operates?

To set the terms of the Wildlife Expo Permit Program — and the use of the application fee revenue — the DWR held open public meetings in December 2014. Five public regional advisory council (RAC) meetings were held throughout the state to discuss the rule and the revenue split. The 51 members of the RACs included elected officials, sportsmen, livestock producers, tribes, wildlife enthusiasts and other appointed members of the public. During these statewide public meetings, there were comments on the program from five citizens, and only two of them raised concerns. All five of the RACs approved the DWR program recommendations and the proposed split of the application fee revenue. On Jan. 6, 2015, the Utah Wildlife Board adopted the RAC recommendations.

Q8: Is there accountability for the use of application fee revenue?

The 2017–2021 expo permit contract recently signed between SFW and the State of Utah clearly states that all of the money raised from expo permit application fees will be used specifically for "policies, programs, projects and personnel that support conservation initiatives in Utah." SFW and its partner, MDF, have committed to annually disclose how 100 percent of these funds are used to benefit Utah wildlife.

Q9: Has the Wildlife Expo Permit Program ever been audited?

Yes, the DWR audits the program annually.

Q10: Why was a Request for Proposals process used to award the expo permit contract for the 2017–2021 timeframe?

The expo organizer performs a service for the DWR by administering the expo permit drawing and attracting a large wildlife exposition to the state. When a state agency wants to contract for services, it’s required to follow the provisions of state procurement laws. The state procurement process is overseen by the Division of State Purchasing and General Services (State Purchasing).

The DWR worked with State Purchasing to issue a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) that was publically distributed and then analyzed by an impartial evaluation committee. An RFP provides a clear set of minimum requirements as well as the scoring criteria that are used to evaluate each proposal. This allows applicants to understand what is important to include in their proposals and how the proposals will be judged.

Q11: Did DWR use the RFP process to award the expo permit contract in the past? If not, why was it used this time?

The Wildlife Expo Permit Program rule (R657-54) also describes a procedure for awarding the expo permit contract, and there are many areas where this rule and state purchasing code overlap. For the past two expo contract awards, proposals were requested by and submitted directly to the DWR for evaluation and consideration.

However, state procurement code does not give the DWR independent purchasing authority — the DWR was required to coordinate with State Purchasing and its RFP process for this contract award. In areas where state purchasing code and the DWR’s rule conflict, the DWR must follow state purchasing code.

In May 2015, DWR began formally working with State Purchasing to develop the RFP document, with the goal of using the RFP process within its existing rule. The DWR specifically mentioned its intent to use an RFP for the 2017 expo permit contract during formal public meetings in December 2014 and August 2015. Listen to recordings of those meetings.

Q12: When was the RFP open for organizations to submit proposals?

State Purchasing issued the RFP on Oct. 8, 2015. It remained open until Nov. 24, 2015. This was after the application period of Aug. 1–Sept. 1 outlined in DWR’s administrative rule for the expo permits contract. Although the release of the RFP through State Purchasing was intended to coincide with that timeframe, there were unexpected delays in issuing it. (These delays were due to personnel changes and the complexity of the issue.)

The DWR stated during the public Utah Wildlife Board meeting on Aug. 27, 2015 (see timestamp 05:22:24) — before any proposals were submitted — that DWR personnel were in the process of working with State Purchasing to issue the RFP. The DWR regretted the delayed release of the RFP, but felt it was important to get the process right.

Q13: Did this delay cause confusion for any potential bidders?

Yes. Although the DWR openly referenced its plan to issue the RFP, one organization was unaware of that statement and submitted a proposal directly to the DWR. That proposal was from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), and it was delivered on Sept. 1, 2015. Because the proposal was submitted outside the RFP process, the DWR encouraged RMEF to resubmit a proposal when the RFP was open. RMEF later submitted a proposal in accordance with the terms of the RFP.

Q14: Who submitted proposals during the RFP process?

Two conservation organizations submitted proposals during the RFP process: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

Q15: How could the DWR have improved the RFP process?

We could have been more proactive in communicating the fact that we were using an RFP process through State Purchasing. We assumed that mentioning it in public meetings would be sufficient, but in hindsight, we should have made an additional effort to reach out to all interested parties. We also regret the delayed release of the RFP. We’re sorry for any confusion and concern these issues may have caused.

Q16: Who was on the State Purchasing committee that selected the expo permit distributor?

The State Purchasing committee consisted of one person from each of the following offices, departments and divisions:

  • Governor’s Office
  • Department of Natural Resources Administration
  • Department of Technology Services
  • Division of Wildlife Resources
  • Division of Purchasing and General Services (assisted with the process in an advisory capacity but did not score proposals)

These five individuals were selected for their ability to objectively and impartially assess the criteria outlined in the RFP and included in the proposals.

Q17: Which criteria did the committee assess?

The committee used the following weighted criteria to evaluate the proposals:

  • Business plan — Expo operations (20% of total score)
  • Business plan — Economic considerations (10% of total score)
  • Business plan — Promotion of hunting, fishing and trapping in Utah (10% of total score)
  • Ability to organize and conduct a secure and fair permit drawing (20% of total score)
  • Commitment to use revenue generated for wildlife conservation in Utah (30% of total score)
  • Historical contribution and previous performance of organization in Utah (10% of total score)

These criteria were published and publically available before proposals were submitted. Any potential vendors who had concerns with the scoring breakdown had the opportunity to discuss those concerns with the Division of Purchasing while the RFP was open. There were no formal objections to the criteria or the scoring breakdown.

Q18: Which organization was awarded the expo permit contract?

The independent State Purchasing committee scored all of the criteria, and the organization with the highest point total was Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (SFW). It more thoroughly addressed the criteria in the RFP and, consequently, had the highest total score. The committee recommended the SFW proposal to the Wildlife Board for approval. Read the detailed summary of the committee’s analysis and scoring.

Q19: What was the Wildlife Board’s role in awarding the expo permit contract?

The Utah Wildlife Board’s role was limited by state procurement code. These restrictions were explained to board members and the public at multiple Wildlife Board meetings in late 2015. In this case, the Board’s only options were to either approve the proposal scored highest by the independent evaluation committee or to cancel the RFP. This ensured the contract was awarded based on the merits of the proposals and not on other factors.

After reviewing the two proposals and the State Purchasing committee's justification statement, the Wildlife Board chose to accept the committee’s recommendation. The contract was then awarded according to state procurement code. Watch the Wildlife Board meeting held Dec. 18, 2015.

Q20: Did Utah Wildlife Board members have conflicts of interest when they assessed the expo permit contract decision?

Although the Wildlife Board’s role was minimal in this process, three board members declared a conflict of interest and recused themselves. Each of the remaining board members signed a conflict of interest form before evaluating the RFP materials at the December 2015 Wildlife Board meeting, and the DWR has no reason to suspect that their decisions were biased in any way. Per the Division of Purchasing and legal counsel, belonging to an organization — or conducting unpaid volunteer work — does not automatically result in a conflict of interest.

Q21: Why wasn’t any public input allowed concerning the expo permit contract bid?

As is the case in any sealed-bid process, state procurement code does not allow public input into proposal selection because those proposals are not open for public review during the evaluation process. Public perception of a preferred organization’s proposal should not have any influence on the evaluation committee — the contract should go to the most qualified applicant based on the review of the disclosed evaluation criteria.

Q22: Why was SFW awarded the expo permit contract when RMEF offered to give a higher percentage of revenue back to Utah for conservation?

The RMEF proposal scored very highly on its commitment to return revenue to the DWR for wildlife conservation in Utah. Its score in that category was much higher than SFW’s score. However, the State Purchasing committee was not evaluating the proposals on just that category. Committee members had to examine all of the details submitted for each of the evaluation categories. SFW’s proposal contained much more detail in the business plan and data-security categories. Only the SFW proposal provided sufficient detail in explaining how the organization planned to secure customers’ identities and credit card information.

Q23: What about claims by the public that RMEF should have been awarded the expo permit contract because it has more members, has hosted a successful convention and has securely conducted numerous online transactions?

Regardless of whether those statements are true, the State Purchasing committee could only evaluate the details provided in the proposals. The SFW proposal scored well because it contained a detailed expo business and marketing plan that included data to support the claims in the proposal. It also provided a detailed data security plan to protect expo attendees’ personal information and credit card data. In contrast, the RMEF proposal provided a much less detailed business plan, and its data security plan was brief and vague. The lack of detail in the data security plan was particularly troubling, as a data breach could have severe financial impacts on expo attendees and cost the state millions of dollars. Read the detailed summary of the committee’s analysis and scoring.

Q24: Will the proposals from the conservation organizations be available to the public?

Individuals who wish to review the proposals may obtain them from State Purchasing via the Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA) request process.

Q25: In the future, how can sportsmen and sportswomen share their thoughts about the Wildlife Expo Permit Program?

The DWR understands that people have a variety of opinions about the Wildlife Expo Permit Program. Comments on the program — and ideas for change — should be expressed through the established Regional Advisory Council process.

Q26: Does all Utah conservation work need to be conducted through the DWR?

Not necessarily. The DWR enjoys working with its many partners but wants to emphasize that there’s more than one channel for wildlife conservation efforts. There are hundreds of conservation organizations throughout the country that use their funding to support and promote outstanding wildlife conservation. Many DWR conservation partners — including both SFW and RMEF — have historically conducted these types of activities.

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