The current leadership of the Ohio Division of Wildlife has once again found itself at odds with its staunchest supporters.
Problems surfaced last year during the state budget hearings when the Sportsmen’s Alliance, nationally and state-based conservation organizations and the governor-appointed Wildlife Council requested a hunting and fishing license fee increase. The Division of Wildlife (ODOW), which is funded through sales of the licenses, had been 14 years without an increase and it was time.
The Department of Natural Resources quieted division personnel and claimed that there was plenty of money in the bank. Even when the Sportsmen’s Alliance pointed out that the division was fast approaching a multimillion dollar deficit, it was ignored.
It wasn’t long after that Division of Wildlife Chief Ray Petering lost his job and six others were relocated to make room for a more agreeable (or frightened) group. During that time, too many counties have been without a wildlife officer, including Hancock.
The situation has raised the ire of sportsmen and, now, they’re getting more bad news. Wildlife Chief Mike Miller announced that his department-driven division will be cutting 50 percent of the cash available for sportsmen’s club grants used for promoting the outdoors.
Retired Wildlife Assistant Chief Randy Miller is at a loss as to why this decision could or should be made. Randy was responsible for handling millions of dollars in conservation projects, statewide budgeting and the procurement of federal aid dollars.
For many years, county sportsmen’s clubs were utilized by the Division of Wildlife to distribute hunting and fishing licenses along with various permits and regulation books to sub-agents for sale at local businesses. In Hancock County, the United Conservation and Outdoor Association (UCOA) did an admirable job of maintaining sales points for sportsmen and women.
In return, the clubs got a portion of the $1 writing fee earmarked for use to promote hunting, fishing, trapping, archery and shooting sports. Their efforts turned into special events, including youth and ladies hunts, fishing derbies, outdoor events and hunts for the mobility impaired.
By 2007, the internet offered many advantages to the consumer. The Division, rolling with the times, developed the Wild Ohio Customer Relationship Management System, making license sales available in our homes.
With the new system, the clubs weren’t needed to deliver materials and that writing fee could be absorbed. This is where a team made up of the five Division of Wildlife district managers, the business administrator and Randy Miller stepped up to the plate, and they hit a home run: the Ohio Conservation Club Grant Program.
“This group insisted on not pocketing the $1.3 million in license-writing fees and they were determined to keep the conservation clubs informed, active and doing great things for wildlife conservation. The grants were recognized as a resource to continue funding their work, particularly with youth and disabled outdoor enthusiasts,” Randy Miller explains.
The goals were simple:
1. Keep funding conservation clubs at the current level;
2. Keep clubs engaged in recruitment and retention;
3. Make grants available to all conservation clubs;
4. Create a competitive grant process and
5. Utilize federal reimbursement.
During the first year, $750,000 was awarded and, by 2017, it climbed to $1,365,000, providing kids, women and disabled sportsmen outdoor opportunities. Over 150 conservation clubs conducted 200 events, covering nearly every county in the state.
The Division of Wildlife has now announced that it plans to cut this allocation to sportsmen’s clubs by 50 percent. But Randy Miller has some concerns: “This is in spite of Mike Miller stating ODOW is ‘flush in funds.'”
Administrators claim they intend to use the monetary difference in developing new ideas related to R3 and establishing an R3 center or properties. R3 is the latest program in dealing with the Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation; the long-recognized problem of fluctuating participation in hunting and fishing activities.
“How many R3 pilot tests has the ODOW conducted? The answer is only one pilot on hunting, one pilot on fishing. How many purchased a hunting or fishing license? Has the retention of these groups been evaluated? Why would ODOW go statewide so fast with the R3 program with so little effort to test and evaluate it?”
The conservation club cuts also dictate that no grant money can buy food, drinks, T-shirts, grills, giveaways, prizes and any other items deemed nonessential. I guess the kids will have to bring their own hot dogs, and volunteers need to pack their lunch.
“The Ohio Conservation Club Grant Program doesn’t cost the ODOW any money because the activities are eligible for federal aid reimbursement. This is an efficient way to capture federal aid money for hunting, fishing and shooting sports,” Randy Miller said.
“Is there any other ODOW program that uses volunteer labor, which is this geographically widespread, reaches that many demographic groups and is federal aid-reimbursed? Has the ODOW evaluated the Conservation Club Grant Program? Have clubs received a review? Do the clubs need to modify their programs instead of having funds slashed?” he continued.
It seems the pledges made in 2007 to support the invaluable programs performed by Ohio sportsmen and women are being disregarded.
“The anglers, hunters, trappers and outdoor enthusiasts are the groups that support and fund the ODOW. This is the constituency that is the backbone of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. These natural resources would not be here without their foundation and advocacy,” said Randy Miller.
It may be time for us to contact our state representative and senator with our thoughts. Visiting www.ohiohouse.gov and www.ohiosenate.gov will help you contact them.
“All too often people pretend to be professional. ‘Professionalism’ is sometimes a facade for fraud. Honesty and transparency combined with character, competence and real results is the key to being a true pro.” — Richie Norton
Step outside:
• The Hancock County Young Guns trapshooting team is seeking new athletes for the upcoming 2018 season. Parents of interested youth shooters from grades four through 12 can contact Scott Hoepf at 419-356-4751 or email sshoepf@icloud.com.
• Today and tomorrow: Tri-State Gun Collectors show, Allen County Fairgrounds.
• Tomorrow: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186.
• Feb. 9 to 11: Columbus Fishing Expo, the Midwest’s premier fishing expo, with hundreds of vendors and seminars on everything fishing from leading pros and experts, Ohio Expo Center, Ohio State Fairgrounds. It runs Friday from noon to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Feb. 10: Chili Cook-Off, 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., University of Findlay Koehler Center. This is Cancer Patient Services’ biggest fundraiser and a local signature event. This important event assists Hancock County cancer patients who need your help. Admission: adults are $10; ages 6 to 12 are $5; and kids 5 and under are free.
• Feb. 11 to March 18: Winter Trap League, Fostoria United Sportsmen’s Club, 1324 N. U.S. 23, Fostoria. Traps open at 9 a.m., program at 10 a.m., breakfast served at 8 a.m., public welcome, no early sign-up required, must have a five-person squad to shoot. Contact: 419-435-4953.
• Feb. 17: Sportsman’s Day, Heritage Christian Union Church, 15738 Ohio 37, Forest. Enjoy vendors, displays, seminars, dinner and door prizes. Doors open at 10:30 a.m., seminars run from 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Music and presentation follow, then prizes will be drawn. Must be in attendance to win. Contact: 419-273-2089.
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 jimsfieldnotes@aol.com.

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