Life imitates art: ODNR channels ‘Rocky & Bullwinkle’

“Government must be a transparent garment which tightly clings to the people’s body.” — Karl Georg Buchner
As a little kid, I loved it when Bullwinkle announced, “Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.” I would laugh until my sides hurt when he pulled out a lion or rhinoceros. He never did pull out that promised rabbit.
My, how life can imitate art.
As long-term wildlife employees were handed their hats to make room for a new ruling class, it was discovered that James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, had pulled something out of his own hat: a hand-picked and somewhat secretive ad hoc advisory committee. All of this while dragging his feet in replacing folks on consulting and overseeing boards, commissions and councils.
Ad hoc is a Latin phrase, meaning “for this purpose.” It is often used to describe a committee that is improvised and impromptu. The definition seems to hold hands with the entire management style of Mr. Zehringer.
Having served on such a committee, I understand the value of the members’ expertise. The committee’s life is usually short, since its scope is narrow. They are at their best when they have the ability to listen to the information and views of experts and are able to add their viewpoints.
They are at their worst when they function as a Star Chamber — operating under the radar, invisible to the public and without government oversight. The first sign that things might be veering off track is how these appointments are made. If they are advocates or friends of the administration, they are often no more than a ballpark bobblehead waiting to have their noggin flicked for an appropriate response.
So, exactly what will this special, secretive ad hoc committee be considering?
We will have to wait and see, though we may never really know. I think every wildlife enthusiast should be on point. Buzzwords have been surfacing like “opportunity” and “access,” along with some other cliché phrases that have been in the operational plans of every DNR division since time began.
There will also be the “falling numbers” story of how hunting and fishing permits have been declining. It will sound as if Ohio is unique, but the truth lies in the fact that every state has seen substantial declines. The national mantra of fish and wildlife agencies has been “recruitment and retention” for well over 50 years.
Saying these catchphrases does not make the job easier for a state whose ownership is vastly private. The Division of Wildlife-driven AEP purchase, which was in its infancy prior to Zehringer’s tenure, is a very positive step forward, but it has little impact on most of Ohio’s weekend sportsmen.
Of more concern are the items that are currently boiling on the stovetop:
• The director’s desire to review the need for the current number of wildlife officers in the state.
• The handling of agriculture-related pollution investigations that are killing aquatic life and damaging water quality from our inlands to the Ohio River and Lake Erie.
• The determined and continuing threat to remove or transfer people who may question decisions.
• Replacing Wildlife Council members with more politically pliable people.
• The need to eventually come up with some type of long-term management plan, which currently seems to be missing.
• The possibilities of combining all DNR enforcement under one enforcement division.
In all things there is hope. Many of the people involved in these moves are not strangers to me and it is difficult to be at odds with them.
Unfortunately, there is a “but.”
But my heart is devoted to what’s best for Ohio’s wildlife, sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts, and I don’t think this director’s plan is it. In the next 18 months until the next election, all I see is turmoil, disrupted lives and hard feelings while the governor happily campaigns for his next office.
For now, wildlife employees are living under a toxic storm cloud ready to rain on their careers.
“An election is coming. Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.” — George Eliot
Along the way
On Aug. 29 and 30, grass carp sampling was completed on the Sandusky River. This interagency project was completed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, Michigan DNR, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, U.S. Geological Survey, New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the University of Toledo.
The project coordinated the use of multiple electrofishing vessels as well as gill and fyke nets to collect adult and juvenile carp in the Sandusky River. During the test period, eight fish were collected using these sampling techniques, reinforcing the belief that current grass carp populations remain low in the lake.
The various sampling methods used during the project, along with ongoing assessment, has helped to identify alternative techniques to increase capture efficiencies for a planned large-scale sampling event to be held in 2018.
The grass carp is an invasive species in the Great Lakes and is one of four species commonly identified as Asian carp. They commonly weigh more than 20 pounds and grow up to 48 inches long.
They were stocked in private ponds as early as the 1970s and some were destined to escape. Grass carp have been found in Lake Erie since the mid-1980s, but they present significantly different risks to the ecosystem compared to bighead and silver carp. Grass carp are primarily herbivorous, consuming large quantities of aquatic vegetation, affecting fish communities through habitat modification.
This project is one part of an approach to better understand and address grass carp in Lake Erie. The knowledge gained will allow a collaboratively developed, science-based approach to develop strategies to deal with this aquatic interloper.
Step outside
• Today: 3-Gun Nation, noon, UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Tomorrow: 3-D deer archery match, registration opens 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109, Findlay. Contact: 419-423-9861
• Tomorrow: Sporting clays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Monday: Women on Target, 6 p.m., HCCL, 13748 Jackson Township 168, Findlay.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Sept. 24: The Hancock County Young Guns trapshooting team and Pheasants Forever will hold a youth trapshooting clinic for kids in fourth through 12th grade on Sunday, Sept. 24, from 3 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay. There’s no cost for this event! To register, contact Scott Hoepf at 419-356-4751 or email
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413. or via email at


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