Pitkin County’s grant review committee has recommended giving just $500 this year to the wildlife rehabilitation center that cares for local orphaned black bears, sparking criticism from volunteers and donations from the Aspen Animal Shelter.
The Silt-based Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation had requested a $5,000 grant from the county, out of its property tax-funded Healthy Community Fund.
The Pitkin County commissioners will meet Tuesday to review the grant committee’s recommendations, and approve or deny them. The grant board has recommended giving $1.8 million to 68 different agencies with the fund’s tax receipts. The requests for grants from local groups totaled more than $500,000 above the county’s available funds, giving the volunteer review committee some difficult choices.
About $1.2 million of the proceeds would go to health and human services entities like Community Health Services and the food bank, Lift-Up; $378,000 goes to senior services; and $234,500 to local nonprofits like Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers ($14,000), the Independence Pass Foundation ($18,000) and Schneegas.
The grant committee assigns each applicant a score, out of 100, based on specific criteria for meeting community goals, managing outcomes and risk, and return on investment. Schneegas scored a 79.
The committee’s comment on Schneegas, in a report for the commissioners, reads: “We care about animals. Thank you.”
The county granted Schneegas $2,500 in 2011 and $500 for 2012.
Schneegas is a volunteer-run shelter, founded and operated by Nanci Limbach since 1984. It is the only such licensed center for wild animals on the Western Slope.
The foundation has appealed the county grant board’s recommendation.
“As you can imagine, the wildlife foundation was disappointed in the small amount granted it, especially in light of the significant increase in Pitkin County’s use of the foundation’s unique services,” volunteer Lindsay Smith wrote in the appeal.
She added that the foundation has no source of income, other than donations and grants, to care for injured wildlife and bear cubs orphaned in the Aspen area’s many euthanizations, fatal car accidents and, this year, one illegal killing in Redstone.
“Unlike so many local nonprofits, the foundation’s director has never taken a salary,” Smith added.
The appeal was one of three sent to the county. The other two came from environmental activist groups — the Thompson Divide Coalition and Wilderness Workshop — which were denied any funds. They had requested $10,000 and $20,000, respectively.
Walt Geister, another volunteer at the wildlife center, took the county to task in a paid advertisement in this newspaper last week, and called for residents to contact the commissioners to increase the Schneegas grant.
After getting word of the low grant, the nonprofit Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter promised a $2,000 donation to the center, along with personal donations from some of its board members.
“I thought it was just ridiculous because we are responsible for a lot of the orphaned bears that end up in her shelter,” said Aspen Animal Shelter board member Bland Nesbit. “If we can afford millions for open space and trails, I think we can afford more than $500 for this organization.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which manages animal populations and euthanizes local bears that risk conflict with humans mostly because of their addiction to artificial food like trash, does not help fund the shelter.