- Associated Press - Friday, June 20, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department is unable to account for 10 guns that are missing from a volunteer hunter education program, despite an assurance from the agency’s director that the firearms would be found by now.

An audit of the agency in April found that 100 firearms provided to volunteer hunter education instructors were missing. Game and Fish was required to take an annual inventory of the guns but had not done so, according to the audit that found dozens of discrepancies with the agency’s practices, including misuse of public money and its “noncompliance with laws, rules, and policies.”

Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand said on June 6 that the agency would have possession of the guns within a week.

Steinwand said Friday that the prediction proved to be optimistic.

“That was a pretty aggressive schedule,” he said. “We are putting a lot of effort into this. We have to have a physical inventory of the guns.”

Agency spokesman Craig Bihrle said the department believes it has 748 guns used for the program but could only account for 738 of them on Thursday. He said game wardens have been working with volunteer hunting instructors to track the guns.

Steinwand and Bihrle said the agency is checking various records to verify that the number of guns is actually 748. Steinwand said some of the guns assigned to hunting instructors are believed to be out of state and have not yet been turned over to the agency.

“We are not going to say we have accounted for them until we have them in our physical possession,” Steinwand said.

Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said the governor has been getting regular updates about the status of the firearms.

“I know they have collected a substantial number of guns and are working on taking possession of more,” Zent said Friday.

Game and Fish regulates hunting, fishing and trapping; manages land; and promotes conservation. The agency does not receive money from North Dakota’s general fund and is instead supported by state licensing fees and federal tax money from the sale of firearms, ammunition and other sporting equipment.

Along with the missing firearms, misuse of public money and the agency’s noncompliance with laws, policies and procedures, the review, conducted by the state auditor’s office, criticized the agency for not safeguarding sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers. The audit said employees dealing with such information are supposed to undergo background checks but that did not happen in some cases.

Auditors also said a program run by the agency called Private Lands Open to Sportsmen is not operating effectively. The program offers payments to landowners who agree to keep their property open to public hunting.

Bihrle said department managers underwent training last week to ensure department policies and procedures are followed.