Autumn. The word conjures images of colorful walks and falling leaves; football Fridays and flannel shirts; crisp mornings and drifting wood smoke; bird dogs and flushing pheasants; tree stands and rutting bucks.
In the midst of it all, there’s a group of men and women who roam the backroads and the out-of-the-way haunts of every county. They can be found in duck marshes and goose fields at dawn, and hiding silently along backroads at 3 a.m. Some will beckon boats returning to Lake Erie docks with limits of perch, or pull alongside fishermen trolling for steelhead.
These are Ohio’s Division of Wildlife’s officers, but there’s a lot more to their story than just the hunting seasons.
It all began in 1873, when the state’s General Assembly created the Ohio Fish Commission in response to declining fish populations in our lakes and streams. Fishing and hunting licenses were sold to help fund research and restocking and to educate against pollution. In about 1930, the Fish Commission’s name was changed to the Division of Conservation.
In 1949, the Department of Natural Resources was created and other state conservation agencies were placed within the same realm. The Division of Conservation had now evolved to include fish and wildlife management, propagation, research, stream improvement and pollution investigation. It was also renamed the Division of Wildlife, as it remains today.
In 1968, the division became responsible for enforcing Ohio’s stream litter law. Its mission was broadened enormously in 1973 by the statutory addition of several hundred more species of wild animals to its care, and two years later by the legal mandate to identify, manage and protect all endangered species in Ohio.
Division of Wildlife projects are carried out by nearly 500 trained professionals. You’ll find fish and wildlife biologists, administrative specialists, federal aid experts, conservation field workers and a variety of other vital employees. But of all of these critical positions, none are more visible as the county-assigned officers.
That title had also been evolving during these changes: from fish and game warden; to game warden; then conservation officer; to game protector and, finally, to the current moniker: wildlife officer. These men and women are the face of the Division of Wildlife and, unquestionably, the most important position in the outfit.
The number of officers was determined by statute in 1888. While there is a small number of wildlife investigators and administrative law supervisors, wildlife officers, like piano keys, number only 88 — one per county, each with an average patrol responsibility of 509 square miles.
While being the muddy boots on the ground that enforce the state’s wildlife rules, they have a long tradition that is far more important to Ohio’s citizens. Wildlife officers are the daily link between the agency and the populace of their assigned county.
They can be found at fishing derbies, hunter education classes, speaking at Rotary functions, garden clubs and church groups. They assist with youth hunts, attend monthly sportsmen club meetings and are guest speakers with school groups of all ages.
Wildlife officers help encourage state and county parks to develop sportsmen’s opportunities on these multi-use areas, even lending their own sweat and labor to plant wildlife habitat, stock fish and release turkeys. They counsel young adults with their career choices, judge science fairs, work with conservation organizations and farm agencies, and can even be found writing in newspapers.
You see, these folks aren’t working a job, they’re in love with an ideal. They grasp the beauty in an English setter’s point, can foresee the future during a youth hunt and perceive a sacred moment in the harvest. They pursue their jobs with a reverent fervor, for they believe that what they are doing is right.
A few will take promotions within the organization to lend their expertise from another vantage, but many are in it for the long haul. They’re content with serving out their career in a county assignment. It’s not really a career, a job, or even work. It’s a calling of the spirit.
Through their license purchases, Ohio sportsmen and women provide $95 of every $100 to pay for all these activities. The division faces many challenges in the pursuit of its goal to ensure an abundance of high-quality wildlife experiences for today’s Ohioans and for future generations. It’s the wildlife officer that will help to ensure that our natural resources are understood and respected.
There have been recent discussions among Department of Natural Resources officials that could reduce the number of officers in the state, leaving some counties empty. Such a situation would certainly be met negatively by wildlife enthusiasts, as well as sheriff’s departments.
More disturbing than these discussions is the apparent inability of those political placements to understand the importance of this vital link between Ohio’s wildlife and its citizens.
“Most of us serve our ideals by fits and starts. The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.” — Cecil B. DeMille
Along the way
If you’re a new deer hunter or would like to pick up some pointers on field dressing and butchering your whitetail, there’s a free informational workshop coming up on Nov. 21.
The workshop will be held from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Division of Wildlife District Two headquarters, 952 Lima Ave., Findlay. The workshop is free, but pre-registration is required by Nov. 17, as space is limited. Register by calling Andrea Altman at 419-429-8321 or emailing email@example.com.
Trained professionals will cover field dressing, skinning and butchering. This workshop is hands-on and will be held outdoors, so dress appropriately. For more information on deer seasons and other hunting opportunities, visit wildohio.gov.
• Today: Turkey shoot. Bring your favorite tight-shooting shotgun for this stationary shoot, 1 p.m., HCCL, 13748 Jackson Township 168, Findlay. It’s open to the public.
• Today and tomorrow: Maumee Valley Gun Collectors show, Lucas County Recreation Center, Maumee.
• Tomorrow: Sporting clays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Tuesday: Last day to register for the Basic Archery Instructor training that will take place on Wednesday at the Wildlife District Two Office, 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pre-register through Tuesday by visiting www.naspbai.org. For details, visit www.wildohio.gov or contact 419-424-5000.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Hunter and trapper education class information and registration is found online at www.wildohio.gov or by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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