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Audit Faults Mo. Department of Conservation For Overspending

David Stonner/Missouri Department of Conservation

A report released on Friday by the Missouri auditor's office says the state continued to overspend on its elk restoration project, even after a 2011 audit found it was way over budget.

The current audit found the Missouri Department of Conservation spent close to $3.4 million to bring 129 elk into the state. Only an estimated 115 elk have survived.

But conservation department Deputy Director Tom Ripperger says those figures are misleading.

"Much of the work ― the habitat work, the road maintenance work, the landowner technical assistance, and all those landowner cost-shares, within that 225,000-acre restoration zone ― the majority of those services would have been carried out by our department staff even without the elk restoration program,” Ripperger said.

Ripperger says taking partner contributions into account, the department actually spent about $1.2 million on the elk project over the past three years.

The audit also found Missouri Department of Conservation employees got more raises than staff at other state agencies.

That includes the department's director, whose salary rose by about $20,000 in the past two years.

But even so, Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto says overall, the conservation department is well-run.

"We found no significant deficiencies in internal control, we found no non-compliance with legal provisions, but we think there could be an improvement in management practices and procedures,” Otto said.

You can check out the audit report for yourself here.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience