Last summer, Ohio’s sportsmen’s clubs and conservation leaders recommended that Ohio consider a hunting and fishing license increase, the first in 14 years.
This request was fiercely opposed by Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) boss Jim Zehringer and his appointees, no doubt on marching orders from Gov. John Kasich. The idea of a leaner Ohio government seemed to be the goal, without regard of what wildlife professionals and sportsmen were saying.
After silencing Division of Wildlife staff and squashing the idea of a license increase, a lot has been changing inside the department and its divisions. The Division of Parks and the Division of Watercraft were combined, though many were told this wasn’t going to happen; the natural resource officer was created, swallowing park rangers, watercraft officers and forest rangers; new people were moved into even newer positions and a few bones were thrown to create a limited K-9 program to influence officer support.
In the Division of Wildlife, it was a political reckoning. The first victims of the fallout were the key personnel inside the division that were apparently too devoted to their constituents. The second, and very critical, casualty was the morale of employees. Meetings during this transition implied that those who didn’t like the changes could be relocated at any time. Fear had become a palpable companion.
There’s little doubt that these changes were being done to provide a new political wind that could blow cash in directions that are not necessarily the wisest way to expend a strapped agency’s money, funds that were generated by Ohio sportsmen.
The standard mantra coming from the new hierarchy is that the Division of Wildlife has plenty of cash, that they refused to assist other divisions inside DNR and that they needed to be shoved off of some perceived pedestal and into a new centrist direction.
Of interest to Ohio sportsmen and women should be that the cash paid for their licenses and permits are specifically earmarked for wildlife. It’s not for improving parking lots, patrolling areas where other DNR officers are assigned, nor a myriad of other pet projects that may lack outside budgeting from general or capital funding.
That money does go toward wildlife research projects: stocking lakes; paying wildlife officers to patrol each of our counties; providing training for prospective outdoors adults and kids; producing booklets, pamphlets and web connections for the public; the support of habitat improvement practices on private and public lands; buying property for public access; building boating access; monitoring Lake Erie’s health and fisheries; constructing shooting ranges; safeguarding the state’s deer herd; working with non-game and endangered wildlife; investigating fish-killing pollutions “¦ and the list goes on.
Properly allocating those funds is also critical in obtaining the federal matching funds available for qualifying projects and purchases; funds that are lost if work is misrepresented, improperly recorded or money is misspent.
The Sportsmen’s Alliance is no stranger to dealing with threats to our outdoor heritage, whether from anti-hunting or fishing lobbyists or those generated by the politicians who are supposed to be serving their constituents.
On Nov. 6, Ohio voters will choose a new governor to inherit the most challenging environment experienced by Ohio’s fish and wildlife resource professionals. They warn that the Division of Wildlife will endure an unprecedented $185 million financial shortfall over the next 10 years.
This deficit has a backlog of capital projects, including: $50 million in dam repairs; $25.5 million in shooting range development needs; and $32.4 million in boat ramp and lake access.
While the Division of Wildlife has been financially self-sufficient since its creation, these financial crises will require Ohio’s next governor to work with sportsmen to chart a path back to financial solvency.
The return to fiscal stability is required for the agency to preserve quality habitat and provide hunting, fishing and trapping experiences for sportsmen, as well as the local economies that depend upon the dollars spent by them.
The Sportsmen’s Alliance, with help from key Ohio sportsmen’s organizations, developed the Protect What’s Right campaign to address this crisis and to restore a healthy working relationship between Ohio’s elected and appointed officials and those who fund conservation through their hunting, fishing and trapping license purchases.
The Protect What’s Right campaign is committed to educating sportsmen about where the candidates for governor stand, so that citizens can make an informed decision about who to support in the upcoming election.
Over the last three months, the Sportsmen’s Alliance invited the gubernatorial candidates to participate in a question and answer session with Ohio’s sportsmen leaders. The Republican candidates that participated were Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Congressman Jim Renacci, and Lt. Governor Mary Taylor.
Participating Democrats were former Attorney General Richard Cordray and Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni. Husted and Renacci did not fill out a questionnaire because they are now running for different offices.
You can view the questions and the candidate’s answers on the Sportsmen’s Alliance website at www.sportsmensalliance.org/news. You can even shoot me an email, I’ll be glad to send you a copy. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.” — Christine Todd Whitman
Along the way:
The Sportsmen’s Alliance will host a candidates reception on Tuesday, March 20, at the Athletic Club, 136 E. Broad St., Columbus, from 6 to 8 p.m. The event is free and all Ohio sportsmen are encouraged to attend.
“The Sportsmen’s Alliance annual candidates reception is a great opportunity for sportsmen and women to meet their elected officials, and those running for office, to discuss the issues important to our community,” said Luke Houghton, Sportsmen’s Alliance associate director of state services.
The reception is only possible through generous donations from numerous sportsmen organizations. RSVPs are encouraged. Call 614-888-4868 today.
• Recently, wildlife officers working out of Athens, Ohio, were told that they are now the primary enforcement officers for state forest lands. This work was previously the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources officers, who are the combined forces of what were once the officers in each of the parks, forestry and watercraft divisions. At the same meeting, they were also told that “parks is out of money” until the new fiscal year, beginning July 1. Will Ohio’s sportsmen will be footing the bill?
• Tomorrow: Sporting clays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• March 16 to 18: Ohio Deer and Turkey Expo, Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave., Columbus. Features the latest strategies, trends, hunting techniques, exhibitors, outfitters, interactive activities, seminars and displays. Local hunters can enter their best deer from any season for display and official scoring by the Buckeye Big Buck Club. An entry costs $20 for scoring and display, while prescored trophies can be entered for $10. All include a three-day pass to the expo. Tickets are $15, $20 for two days, and include your choice of a free subscription to either Field and Stream or Outdoor Life. Kids 6 to 15 get in for $5. Hours are: Friday, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• March 17: Waterfowl identification workshop, 8 a.m. to noon, Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area, 3451 Sandusky County 256, Vickery. Preregistration required by Thursday, call 419-898-0960, ext. 21.
• March 24: Black Swamp Bucks Unlimited, the Cube, 3430 N. Main St., Findlay. Games/raffles and social hour is 3 p.m., dinner is 5:30 p.m. Meet special guest and emcee Kevin Blake Weldon, singer-songwriter and staunch supporter of our outdoor heritage. Tickets are $55 for singles, $35 for spouse. Visit www.blackswampbucks.com or call Nate Riker at 419-306-1595, Ken Cooper at 419-231-0236 or Scott Mathews at 419-722-7998.
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 email@example.com.
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