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N.D. Game and Fish director says 18 guns still unaccounted for after critical audit

BISMARCK – Eighteen firearms are still missing after a critical audit of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department found the agency hadn’t properly inventoried guns used in its hunter education program for at least eight years, department Director Terry Steinwand told lawmakers Wednesday.

Members of the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee grilled Steinwand about the guns and a number of other deficiencies raised in the audit, including improperly reimbursing employees for meals, paying a landowner for hunting access on a tract of land he didn’t own and continuing to do business with a nonprofit group that was involuntarily dissolved in 2003.

Steinwand said the department has completed or substantially completed 80 percent of the audit’s 44 recommendations.

“Honestly, we were all disappointed that we did so poorly in this audit, and everybody feels accountable for this. So there’s been a real buy-in from staff that we’re going to do better,” he told lawmakers.

The audit, which was finalized June 3 and is the first-ever performance audit of the Game and Fish Department, found no evidence that guns provided to hunter education instructors as teaching aids were ever inventoried. The state auditor’s office identified more than 100 guns that weren’t inventoried, but later learned the number associated with the program was “significantly higher,” Audit Manager Jason Wahl said.

Steinwand said the department had to rebuild its inventory list by collecting all of the guns from hunter education volunteers and even went so far as to contact gun manufacturers, dealers and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine ownership. Some of the guns were privately owned, he said.

“This has been a very complicated process,” he said.

The department has verified the location of 704 guns in its inventory, and game wardens are still trying to track down 18 firearms, Steinwand said.

“Some of these have been extremely difficult,” he said, adding the department contacted more than 1,500 active and inactive volunteer instructors. One former instructor the department has been unable to reach is now a police officer in Atlanta, he said.

The vast majority of the firearms used in the program are .22 caliber rifles, 20-gauge shotguns and black powder rifles, Steinwand said.

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