State audit gives MDC "good" rating, but brings disagreement on cost of elk project

Dec 29, 2011

A routine state audit has given a rating of “good” to the Missouri Department of Conservation. But as St. Louis Public Radio's Véronique LaCapra reports, the audit did find some problems.

The audit says the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC’s) elk reintroduction project cost the state over 1.2 million dollars – almost three times more than planned.

But MDC Deputy Director Tim Ripperger says the agency actually spent less than the four-hundred-and-eleven-thousand dollars it budgeted for the project in 2011: “The difference in the funds the auditor’s office is talking about and what we’re showing is in staff time, habitat management and improvement, infrastructure such as some road improvement, that sort of thing.”

The Deputy State Auditor for Missouri, Harry Otto, says the Missouri Department of Conservation spent one-point-two million dollars to reintroduce fewer than 40 elk. He says the MDC had estimated it would spend about 400-thousand dollars to bring in 150 animals. But overall, Otto says, the department is well-managed: “This is a multi, multi-million dollar operation on an annual basis, and at the end of the day, we said the overall performance of this entity was “good,” in spite of some of the things that we found. We very rarely find one that’s what we consider perfect.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation says the audit incorrectly included the cost of staff salaries, habitat improvements, and road maintenance in its calculations and that the elk project actually came in under budget. And Ripperger says most of the excess costs identified by the audit would have been incurred even without the elk reintroduction project.