Friday, March 16, 2018

Bass Pro/Cabela's indefinitely extend NICS 3-day default background check allowance

Bass Pro Shops appears to have quietly yielded to a request presented to it by 13 Democratic U.S. Senators regarding background checks on prospective firearms buyers.

The 13 senators are all largely regarded as being proponents of strict gun control laws with some of them promoting a ban on the sale of AR-platform rifles, rifle and handgun magazines with capacities greater than 10 rounds, and enhanced background checks.

Related to that last item, in 2015 the 13 senators sent a joint communique to Bass Pro Shops. These elected officials asked the outdoors retailer and Internet seller of firearms, ammunition and other outdoors wares to forego kicking in the federal government’s so-called “three-day default to proceed” background check provision.

This provision remains one of the few existing components of the Brady Violence Protection Act of 1993. It states that if the FBI does not complete its National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) protocols within a three-day period that a federally licensed firearms dealer may proceed with the sale.

However, a FFL dealer is not required to do so and may if it so chooses wait until it gets what amounts to a go/no go notification from the FBI.

The default provision was established as a compromise to ensure that the federal government conducts background checks in an expeditious manner. This was done so that such entities would be prevented from essentially achieving a pocket veto of firearms sales.

The FBI states that 91 percent of its NICS calls are completed within one day, and says also on its web site that its West Virginia-based NICS Section has an average wait and processing time of “446.3 seconds.” Also, the agency’s web site says it has fielded more than 230 million checks based upon the federal firearms application to-buy form, having rejected more than 1.3 million applications.

Still, even with a largely quick application go/no-go turn-around, Bass Pro Shop says it will wait until NICS clearance is actually received. This information is based upon a check made via the retailer’s Internet electronic customer “chat services.” The Q&A service confirmed that the retailer will “hold the order for 45 days at the store” before returning the firearm to inventory should Bass Pro Shops fail to receive an okay from the FBI’s NICS program.

A Bass Pro Shops spokesman did not return telephone calls requesting further formal input.

Likewise, Cabela’s – which Bass Pro Shops agreed to purchase for $5.5 billion in 2016 – has a similar policy. A sales representative at Cabela’s Avon Lake store said the operation there will not release for sale any firearm until it also receives a NICS okay-to-proceed notification.

Few people would argue that NICS is flawed. That is why a bi-partisan legislative effort is underway to enhance the program. It is dubbed as the “Fix NICS Act of 2017” bill and is now before the U.S. Senate. This adjustment seeks better accountability in ensuring that all federal agencies report persons convicted of crimes which would legally prohibit them from buying or possessing a firearm.

This prohibition is called a “disability” and came to the forefront during a couple of recent instances whereby a federal agency failed to include into systems that NICS could access the names of people ineligible to buy a firearm.

In another related matter, the on-line “Business Insider” magazine - and other media venues - reported earlier this month that Bass Pro Shops was being lobbied via social media and by telephone to stop selling AR-platform rifle through its outlets and its Cabela’s affiliates.

These requests came after Dick’s Sporting Goods said it would no longer sell AR-platform rifles through its chain of Field & Stream outdoors-supply stores. This, following the murder of 17 high school students by a killer who allegedly used such a firearm.

However, a check of both Bass Pro Shops’ and Cabela’s web sites showed that each retailer still had AR-platform rifles for sale.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Coast Guard's Great Lakes operation saw huge spike in 2017 hoax distress calls

With the boating season fast approaching, the U.S. Coast Guard is reminding mariners that making a hoax distress call or indiscriminately shooting off flares are more than simply practical jokes gone bad, they are also expensive.

And not to be forgotten, illegal.

So much so that making a false hoax call to the Coast Guard can result in a fine of up to $10,000, a 10-year prison sentence, or both. Oh, and possibly being told by a federal judge to pony up reimbursement money to the Coast Guard which is required to respond to every call for help.

Those kinds of expenses can accumulate quickly, too, says the Coast Guard. A distress call search using an HC-130 Super Hercules fixed-wing aircraft costs approximately $15,000 per hour. And a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter operates at approximately $10,000 per hour, the Coast Guard says.

As for a boat rescue search, that sort of activity tops out at approximately $5,000 per hour, says the Coast Guard as well.

And about 30-percent of the fake calls the Coast Guard receives are made by children who do not know the implications of their actions. the agency says as well. 

Thus making a hoax distress call is no laughing matter, says Petty Office Brian McCrum, spokesman for the Coast Guard’s Ninth District, headquartered in Cleveland.

The Ninth District covers all five of the Great Lakes and portions of eight states. Its 6,000 personnel – active duty, reserve forces and auxiliary volunteers – are responsible for 6,700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, a length greater than the country’s entire Eastern Seaboard, are positioned in 80 stations and crew eight helicopters and 202 vessels, McCrum says.

The Coast Guard treats all emergency calls as if they were real until they can be proved otherwise,” McCrum said. “A hoax mayday case can sometimes last an average of three hours before it is called off.”

Thing is, McCrum acknowledges, hoax distress calls are time-consuming. They also do not just take away personnel they likewise drain the agency’s financial assets; funds that should be going to the “Coast Guard’s actual and main mission,” McCrum says.

McCrum says too that hoax calls can involve bringing in the assets of Canada’s Great Lakes’ Coast Guard contingency; consequently tapping into that nation’s bank account.

We really push the need to be vigilant during the summer months,” McCrum said.

McCrum said that last year by mid-June alone the Coast Guard’s Ninth District had fielded on the order of 160 total false distress calls, each one requiring a Coast Guard response.

That was up from the 55 false distress calls for the same period in 2015,” McCrum said. “Those kinds of calls are not only expensive and time-consuming, they can and do put our personnel at risk.”

Going hand-in-glove with hoax distress calls is the shooting off of flares; the type of visual signaling activity that alerts the Coast Guard directly or causes a citizen to call in a reported sighting that may not be a real distress situation.

In one case in 2017 in the Coast Guard’s Seventh District (comprising Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico) responded to a false flare sighting that required the use of a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft and a small boat search crew. The total expense for this ultimately unnecessary response cost more than $43,000.

What should not be lost on would-be hoax distress call makers either is that technology has begun to catch up with the impostors, the Coast Guard says.

In addition to the capability to triangulate the location of most radio calls, the Coast Guard is developing new technology to identify hoaxers. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center’s newest tech can determine the unique vocal identity, like a fingerprint, of hoax callers, includes those wish to remain anonymously by using “silly voices,” the agency says.

The Coast Guard works closely with the Federal Communications Commission and law enforcement partners to track and pinpoint potential hoax calls,” McCrum said.

If a mariner hears a hoax distress call they are urged to contact the Coast Guard through its mobile app at Reporting hoax callers helps save time and resources and stop further hoax calls, McCrum says.

We don’t want people to be afraid of contacting us, and we recognize there is a difference between making a hoax distress call and a false alert, which would be something like a person mistaking a floating log for a body,” McCrum said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, March 12, 2018

Outdoor recreation a huge cog in the nation's economic engine

Not only are outdoor activities that embrace fishing, hunting, Rving and other like pursuits important economic subjects for the United States, they also are expanding at rates that exceed the nation’s overall economic engine.

In a much-detailed report called the “Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account: Prototype Statistics for 2012-2016,” the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis says that the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2-percent ($373.7 billion) of current-dollar so-called “Gross Domestic Product” for 2016.

Looked at slightly differently, the Commerce Department reports how the outdoor recreation economy grew 3.8 percent in 2016 (the latest year for which complete data is available). That figure is also one full point greater than did the nation’s overall economic growth rate of 2.8 percent.

The rates likewise saw a huge jump in 2015 at nearly six-percent before settling back in 2016 to levels more closely in line with those seen in 2013 and 2014.

Refined further, the Commerce Department’s exhaustive report says that outdoor recreation activities fall into three general categories. These subsets include what’s officially known as “conventional core activities” and which embrace such activities as bicycling, boating, hiking, and hunting.

Another subset of core activities including “agritourism”(a loosely applied term that implies recreational visitation to farms and ranches), and outdoor festivals, and supporting activities that enfold construction, trips and travel, and government.

In 2016, conventional recreation accounted for 36.7 percent of total outdoor recreation gross output, other recreation accounted for 22.1 percent, while supporting activities accounted for the remaining 41.2 percent, the Commerce Department says.

More directly to individual components, the Commerce Department says that motorized vehicle use was “the largest activity within conventional outdoor recreation in 2016.”

This outdoors market share accounted for $59.4 billion of gross output with recreational vehicles “accounting for more than half of this value at $30 billion,” the Commerce Department’s report states.

Boating and sport fishing were not slackers, either, in helping fuel the nation’s economic engine. These activities were worth $38.2 billion in 2016, representing an increase of 4-percent from the previous year.

And the combined hunting/shooting/trapping activities were valued at $15.4 billion in 2016, with hunting accounting for over 60 percent of this value, the Commerce Department said in its February 14th report.

As for the Commerce Department’s “multi-use apparel and accessories” component which include backpacks, bug spray, and other general-purpose gear and accessories that could not be allocated to specific activities, this segment grew 7.2 percent in 2016 and accounted for 35 percent of conventional outdoor recreation gross output, the report says.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the data collected, analyzed and subsequently made available to the public and – especially business – can help the latter in hiring, investing and growth.

The historical lack of detailed federal data regarding outdoor recreational activities has handicapped both the private and public sectors, Ross said as well.

The public will no doubt be surprised at the economic importance of this industry as we release prototype statistics measuring the impact of activities like boating, fishing, RVing, hunting, camping, hiking, and more,” Ross said. “This release is a milestone and helps us all gain new insights into this dynamic part of the U.S. economy.”

True enough says the Washington D.C.-based Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a non-profit coalition of conservation and pro-sportsmen organizations.

It’s an extraordinary step forward to be able to quantify exactly how much America’s hunters, anglers, boaters, hikers, bikers, skiers, wildlife watchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts are contributing to a healthy economy and job market,” said Whit Fosburgh, the Partnership’s president and CEO.

Fosburgh said as well that the Commerce Department report does not even take into account recreational trips of less than 50 miles; about two-thirds of all outdoor recreation trips. Nor does the Commerce report take into account he sale of imported recreational goods, Fosburgh says.

Tally it all together and the nation’s outdoor recreation economy is worth $887 billion annually, Fosburgh also says.

When you consider that there are also many unquantifiable benefits of getting outside, including fostering healthy bodies and minds, you would think that growing this sector would be a top priority for our national decision makers,” Fosburgh said, noting the importance of the report in framing how the government addresses the topic of public lands, their use and any possible disposal.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, March 5, 2018

On the personl rewards of checking off a bucket list item

DOVER, Delaware - Any bucket list is meaningless save for the one who matters the most: The person actually compiling the list.

It all comes down to what he (or she) would like to see accomplished before being placed in that lonesome valley. From big ticket items that are defined by wealth, time and health, to small and mundane things for which a person had not gotten around to doing for one reason or another.

In truth, a bucket list doesn’t have to make sense and in some measure, ought not to, either. They are the dreams found in one’s back-of-the-head diary.

Alas, I have several items on my bucket list that never will see themselves being checked off.

I had always wanted to cover as a reporter Alaska’s Iditarod Sled Dog Race. And I came oh, so, close a number of years back. But my doctor would have no part of it when he discovered my effort would require abandoning civilization for the outback and thus require extensive physical exertion of the kind that my all ready deteriorating spine would not tolerate.

Ditto with a withdrawn acceptance to fly aboard one of those aircraft that climbs high, fast and cocked vertically only to dive towards the earth just as fast and just as straight. For a few brief moments the effect mimics weightlessness. My doctor’s response was as expected as was my wife’s “Are you nuts?”

So I (very reluctantly) bowed out on doctors’ orders.

Even so, my bucket list does contain any number of “reasonable to acquire” items; and one of those I recently saw go from “to do” to “have done” ledgers. Oh, nothing major, but it was somewhat spontaneous, not all that expensive, with the bonus of being downright fun. Perfect bucket list criteria.

Up until a couple of weeks ago I had just one state left to have set my foot in – Delaware, of all places, the land of soft-shelled crab cakes, salt-water marshes, and Joe Biden. The remaining 49 states were colored in, including Mississippi, which felt my hiking boot’s impact last late spring.

I could not plan on doing a several-state tour to complete the bucket list, needing to head directly to Delaware. This mid-Atlantic state bills itself as the nation’s “First State,” a claim it can make since it was the initial one to ratify the Constitution.

Anyway, my wife, Bev, and I gathered up a AAA trip planner, loosely tossed some clothing into gym bags, kennel-upped our two dogs into the car and headed east for around 423 miles to Dover, Delaware. Don’t ask me why I selected Dover, either. I really was thinking “Wilmington” but Dover sort of popped out of my mouth.

The drive carried us through Pennsylvania’s southern tier of counties, across Maryland and around Baltimore and then up and over the 4.3-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The bridge is billed as the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure and which costs $4 to cross but only if you’re headed east. People heading west in the opposite direction pay nothing. I know, that doesn’t make any more sense than me trying to scratch off a silly bucket list item. Then again, Joe Biden as a presidential candidate doesn’t make much sense either.

Once across the Bay and back on dry land in Maryland’s Eastern Shore it was just a hop, skip and Triple-A trip planner drive to Delaware. And than another 45 minute or so drive to Dover, the state’s capital and home to one of the Air Force’s largest encampments.

Now that we were there and found a motel room for the night – not an easy proposition since all but one of the motels we visited said no to our two Labrador retrievers. As Bev would opine during our motel search “Dover is not dog friendly.” But I digress.

Perhaps, but what is dog friendly (as long as an animal is on a lead no longer than 10 feet) is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 16,251-acre/25 square mile/eight-mile-long Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge’s front is edged by massive farm fields while its backside butts up against the Delaware Bay, a salty finger of the Atlantic Ocean.

And it was at Bombay that the bucket list became more than just my last state check-off item. Bombay NWR - Bev and I discovered in a bit of pre-trip research - includes a 12-mile motor vehicle drive. No four-lane highway, for sure, but the drive offers up tremendous wildlife viewing opportunities.

Ducks were plentiful and included the usual assortment one would expect of a migratory bird wintering ground. Pintails in large numbers as well as mallards, shovelers and even a pair of black ducks that were picking their way through a tidal mud flat. Then there were humongous flocks of snow geese and Canada geese and tundra swans.

No wonder that a goodly portion of the large farms we drove past had waterfowl-hunting blinds anchored to them. Oh, and an equal number of deer-hunting blinds. It appears that the Eastern Shore hunters take their big-game and waterfowl hunting seriously.

It would have proven foolish to race the course, even if the site had no posted 25 mile-per-hour speed limit. We’d stop here or pulled over there in order to unpack the binoculars or to leash the dogs for a quick walk to observation towers overlooking waterfowl-filled marshes. Once we even had a red fox come trotting up the road towards us, stopping directly opposite the car which enabled us to shoot a bunch of photographs.

After four hours of touring, stopping to ogle the assembled wildlife it was time to leave the Bombay NWR, the city of Dover and the state of Delaware behind. I had checked off a bucket list minutia. A fly speck of an interesting item in a lifetime of one’s existence, though important to me none-the-less.

And I would suppose there are people who would snort that a 1,100-mile round trip journey and a $400 or so wallet reduction was on the silly side just to fulfill a bucket list wish item.

These folks are correct in some respects, though in the end having the First State become my last to visit (as an approving niece would later say) meant that not only was a bucket list entry crossed off, it was memorably noted with the inclusion of a very large and very red circle.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Friday, March 2, 2018

Fewer concealed carry permits issued in Ohio last year but renewals were up

By a drop of nearly 41,000 permits, fewer Ohioans obtained their concealed carry licenses in 2017 than did Ohioans in 2016.

However, renewals of concealed carry license saw a healthy increase of more than 13,000 permits last year when compared to the number of renewals issued in 2016.

By Ohio law, the state Attorney General is required to report quarterly as well as annually to the Ohio General Assembly on the state’s concealed carry program. Among the report’s detailed components are such things as new licenses issued, renewals, license revocations, and licenses suspended, says Mike DeWine, the Ohio Attorney General.

Ohio began its legislatively approved concealed carry program in 2004. Since that first year the state’s 88 county sheriffs have issued 735,762 concealed carry permits, based on a tally of such licenses gleaned from the Ohio Attorney General’s required annual reports to the Ohio General Assembly.

The state works closely with these 88 county sheriff departments, who do the actual permit processing duties.

Broken down a little more, for 2017 the 88 county sheriffs issued 77,281 new CCW licenses, such permits being good for a five-year period. In 2016 that figure was 117,953 – the most ever - and which itself represented a large jump from the 71,589 new concealed carry licenses issued in 2015. Even so, that figure was a huge leap from the 58,066 new licenses issued in 2014.

Also, renewals last year totaled 54,064 licenses – the most also since 2008 when renewals first became due. By comparison, the 2016 license renewal figure was 40,986. In all and since 2008, the state’s 88 counties processed 317,976 renewals; again, based upon statistics derived from a search of the Ohio Attorney General’s annual reports to the Ohio General Assembly.

For license applications denied, the number fell appreciably: from 1,634 denials in 2016 to 1,216 denials last year. Likewise, the number of revocations dropped from 2016 to 2017: 697 to 437, respectively. Among the reasons for a revocation are a permit holder moving out of state, death or a person no longer wanting to hold a license.

As for suspensions, this is a class of license “hold” distinctions where the affected documents are put in abeyance for such things as the holder being arrested and charged for certain crimes. If the impacted person is found not guilty or the charges are dropped the concealed carry license is returned. For both 2016 and 2017, identical 1,669 licenses were suspended.

“Licenses to carry concealed handguns are an important part of the responsible exercise of our fundamental rights,” DeWine says.

“I am committed to the comprehensive training of law enforcement and the public regarding concealed carry laws, expansion of reciprocity agreements with other states whenever possible, and protection of the public.”

The top five counties for issuing new licenses include Franklin – 6,019; Lake – 5,789; Montgomery – 3,565; Hamilton – 3,075; and Butler – 2,929. Counties with the fewest new licenses issued in 2017 were: Noble – 85; Coshocton – 114; Meigs – 139; Monroe – 147; Paulding – 171.

Of Ohio’s 88 counties, 16 issued more renewals than they did process new concealed carry licenses. The five counties with the highest number of renewals were: Franklin – 3,564; Lake – 2,713; Clermont – 2,386; Montgomery – 2,238; Butler – 1,934. The five counties with the fewest number of renewals in 2017 were: Noble – 43; Meigs – 55; Monroe – 68; Paulding – 94; Coshocton – 102.

Not to be forgotten, Ohio has concealed carry reciprocity with 36 other states, including a convoluted agreement with Virginia. The Ohio Attorney General’s office suggests that Ohioans interested in carrying concealed in Virginia should visit or call the Virginia State Police for the latest information.

As for the requirements to obtain a concealed carry licese, DeWine notes that Ohio law has established minimum educational requirements that are a component of the various forms of competency certification. The total time required for training is eight hours with a minimum of two hours of in-person training that consists of range time and live-fire training.

The training and written exam may be completed online or as a combination of in-person and online training. The online portion of the training still must include a component that regularly engages the person, DeWine says.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ohio's gubernatorial candidates voice their thoughts on sportsmen's issues

With Ohio's primary campaign season heating up, the state's hunters, anglers and trappers almost certainly will begin wondering what the gubernatorial wanna-be's think.

And more importantly, what they intend to do if elected.

The Columbus-based U.S. Sportsman's Alliance has taken at least some of the guesswork out of the process. It contacted several of the candidates from each party who are seeking to replace the term-limited Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Along with the Alliance in developing the questionnaire were several of the state's pro-sportsmen organizations. This is the full text of the Alliance's Q&A with the responses proving interesting reading. If for no other reason than because most are 180-degree departures from what the Kasich Administration has been promoting now for almost either years.

If there is any point you'd find me disagreeing with both the candidate and the Alliance-backed group it is the final point. That one suggests allowing the Ohio Division of Wildlife to set "incremental increases" to hunting and fishing licenses fees. With the approval of the powerful but little known and hardly answerable to the public.

Brother talk about allowing the fox to guard the hen house. The present system of the Ohio General Assembly debating and determining taxes (and hunting and fishing license fees ARE taxes) is not perfect. That said, such a system does hold both the General Assembly and any executive administrative accountable for either raising fees or deciding to keep them as they are.

Seriously, would Ohio be better off if every other license fee, tax, charge be decided by bureaucrats, cartels of special interests, or a small cadre of politicians? No, I really do not think so. In fact, the very idea scares the bejabbers out of me.

In any event, here is the Alliance's Q&A:

n addition to strong support within the hunting community for the Second Amendment, Ohio sportsmen and women have other serious concerns about the quality of hunting, fishing and trapping in Ohio. These invaluable parts of our heritage are increasingly threatened by a fiscal crisis facing the agency, and the direction of that agency that has exacerbated relations with the paying constituency – Ohio’s hunters, anglers and trappers.

Ohio needs a governor and an administration that values the partnership of sportsmen and women, and wants to work with us to address this crisis, and restore Ohio’s natural resources to the quality people deserve. To help ensure this outcome, the Sportsmen’s Alliance formed the Protect What’s Right Campaign, which includes the Buckeye Firearms Association, Central Ohio Chapter of Safari Club International, Ducks Unlimited, Greene County Fish and Game Association, Ohio Conservation Federation, Ohio State Trappers Association, Pheasants Forever Chapters, Columbiana Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and Hocking County Fish and Game.

As such, we sent the following questions to each gubernatorial candidate. Below, you can compare each of their answers side by side, and you can read (and print) individual candidate’s responses by clicking on their name:  Rich CordrayJoe SchiavoniMike DeWine, Mary Taylor.

1. The Ohio Division of Wildlife is facing a funding shortfall of $185 million over the next ten years. Ohio’s sportsmen’s organizations overwhelmingly support modest increases in resident hunting, fishing and trapping fees to offset this crisis threatening hunting, fishing, trapping and quality habitat. Will you work with sportsmen’s groups to create a plan that will be included in your first biennial budget to fully address the financial shortfalls of the Ohio Division of Wildlife?

Rich Cordray: Yes. I understand that without sufficient funding through this mechanism, the current  shortfalls will mean that Ohio sportsmen will lose their quality habitat. This will directly threaten and undermine hunting, fishing, and trapping in Ohio. Without access to quality public lands and preservation of appropriate habitat, Ohio sportsmen will be left to beg for access to private lands which typically have exclusivity policies. They also will not be able to ensure that needed habitat is preserved and maintained for the sportsmen community that has been such a key part of the lifestyle and economy of this state. I will be a champion for this community and will work to restore the kind of public access that will make Ohio a premier destination for sportsmen from here and elsewhere. I am proud of our traditions and will work to maintain them in close coordination and consultation with the sportsmen community here. We will deal with these issues together, and I will fight with the legislature as needed to achieve these goals. 

Mike DeWine: Yes. Ohio is home to so many natural resources for sportsmen. Hunters, trappers, and anglers in Ohio are part of a $2+ billion industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs. To maintain and ultimately grow, we must ensure that Ohio facilities are top notch and public lands are available and continue to be places that sportsmen from all over the country want to visit. 

Joe Schiavoni: Absolutely. It’s in Ohio’s best interest to preserve our natural resources for use by sportsmen and women, as well as all Ohioans and visitors to the state who value hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife protection. This would be a broadly beneficial use of funds in our state budget.  

In the end, it’s about priorities. Recent state budgets have made drastic cuts to programs that matter to Ohioans. We need to invest in our state in order to increase tourism value, bolster our economy, and encourage young Ohioans to live and work in the communities that raised them.  

Camping and fishing have always been a big part of my family’s life. Every Ohioan deserves a chance to experience everything our state has to offer. I look forward to working with all interested parties to figure out the best way to move forward on this issue. It’s our next governor’s job to make sure future generations of sportsmen and women are able to enjoy the activities they love. 

Mary Taylor: Yes, I recognize that the issue of funding wildlife efforts has been a contentious one and there has been dispute over the state of the various funds that are controlled by the Division of Wildlife, as well as the need for additional revenues from increased license fees. As a CPA, I understand the numbers and this is not a partisan or ideological issue. I will continue to work with the various sportsmen’s groups to reach a consensus on the numbers and develop a plan to ensure that the priorities for wildlife are funded.

2. Because Ohio’s hunting, fishing and trapping fees have not increased since 2004, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has a $129 million backlog of capital projects that include $50 million in dam repairs, $25.5 million in shooting range development needs, and $32.4 million in boat ramp and lake access. Will you agree to create a plan to utilize capital bill bond dollars to address this backlog, and work to see the plan enacted in your first term as Governor? 

Cordray: Yes. As Ohio Treasurer, I was directly engaged with strategizing and executing on Ohio’s funding needs through bonded debt. For longer-term needs, bond moneys are an appropriate and feasible funding mechanism that match well with longer-range planning and support for such needs. We issued bonded debt for highway and other infrastructure needs, so I am familiar with how such funding works and with the importance of building and sustaining the kind of political capital needed to ensure its success and sustainability. I will bring this experience to the similar problems we need to address here with these capital projects, and I will see to it that we develop and apply capital bill bond dollars to achieve a lasting solution to meeting these critical needs for Ohio’s sportsmen community that is now starving for the financial ability to maintain our longstanding traditions and our preferred way of life. 

DeWine: Yes. Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans enjoy our lakes, parks, and shooting ranges. Ohio has a responsibility to update those facilities and amenities to ensure they can be used by future generations. All avenues of funding need to be considered including capital dollars, federal dollars, public private partnerships, and more. 

Schiavoni: Yes. As a state senator and former Senate Minority Leader, I have introduced several bills to upgrade Ohio’s crumbling infrastructure and aging water systems using bond dollars. I’ve also worked with my Republican colleagues to move a bipartisan bill to expand broadband internet access using existing Third Frontier bond revenue. My staff and I have worked with local leaders to secure capital budget dollars for these types of projects over several capital budget cycles. We have an in-depth understanding of the capital budget process and years of experience advocating for the use of bond dollars in needed upgrades and improvements.  

I would be happy to utilize capital budget and/or bond dollars to address the backlog of projects supported by the Division of Wildlife and sportsmen’s’ organizations. We need these resources to be around for generations to come. 

I loved camping and fishing with my family growing up, and still enjoy it to this day. I want to be able to give my sons the same experience. Ohio sportsmen and women can feel confident that I would work with them in my capacity as governor to help maintain Ohio’s natural assets. 

Taylor: Yes, as described in#1 above, I understand the backlog and that this needs to be prioritized in the State of Ohio. I believe that it is completely appropriate to use the state’s capital budget to fund Wildlife capital projects.

3. Ohio sportsmen and women have long supported the Ohio Division of Wildlife because it has consistently produced quality hunting, fishing and trapping, and abundant habitat to enjoy these activities. Additionally, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is designed to remove undue political influence and instead rely upon science-based wildlife management professionals. Since its creation, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has operated under this model, to great success. The agency has been seen as a leader nationally, while working to address the needs of all Ohioans and the customers who fund conservation programs. The agency has been recently politicized, which threatens these programs and support for the agency itself.

A.) Will you restore civil service protection for senior staff of the agency that will serve the interest of the paying public? 

Cordray: Yes. I have been appalled at the very recent politicization of the Division of Wildlife. The professional and expert senior staff that have been devoted to preserving and sustaining the activities that are so central to the way of life for our sportsmen community must be strengthened and protected. I will consult closely with the sportsmen community to ensure that we restore the right kind of professional leadership to the Division of Wildlife and that we then back that leadership by restoring civil service protection for the senior staff and other key personnel. Quality hunting, fishing, and trapping and the abundant habitat needed to support them do not happen by accident. My Administration will protect that kind of leadership against political encroachment from all comers, including those in the legislature. 

DeWine: Yes. I will have a knowledgeable and professional staff within the Ohio Division of Wildlife without regard for politics.

Schiavoni: Yes. Sportsmen and women who have dedicated their entire lives to this profession should never be on the chopping block to make way for political favors and games. The industry is best served by civil servants who are well trained in the needs of the people they’ll be working with on a daily basis. A political appointee will never be able to produce the same quality results as someone who is in the position because they are passionate about it. 

Taylor: While I’m open to discussing this, and I certainly commit to depoliticizing the Division and ensuring the Division is staffed with trained professionals, I tend to believe that senior staff of a state agency should not receive civil service protection. Civil service provides important protections for public employees, but it is necessary that the executive maintain some degree of control over leadership of state agencies.

B) Additionally will you commit to appointing a Chief and senior leadership of the Division of Wildlife based on sound wildlife management and leadership experience, as well as, their passion for hunting, fishing, trapping and the shooting sports?

Cordray: Yes. Not only will I commit to appointing a Chief and senior leadership based on these key criteria, but I will commit to consulting closely with the sportsmen community over my selection and support of that leadership, in order to ensure that those most affected by the everyday operations of the Division of Wildlife are satisfied that we are in fact achieving these goals. 

DeWine: Yes. It is vital that the chief and senior leadership have professional experience in wildlife management as well as a passion for the outdoors, hunting, fishing, trapping, and shooting sports. 

Schiavoni: Yes. 100%. The Division of Wildlife must be staffed, especially at the highest levels, with individuals who have the best interest of sportsmen and women at heart. It is unacceptable that recent administrations have focused on staffing agencies with people who care more about state government than the agencies they oversee.

No matter the issue, people who are on the ground dealing with that issue every day are the ones who understand it best. That’s how I approach every bill I write, and it’s how I will appoint leadership at every level when I am governor. Leaders who care deeply about the duties of the agency will produce better results than any political appointee ever would.

Taylor: Yes, I understand and agree that the appointment of Division leadership that has appropriate Wildlife background is critical to earning the confidence and support of the sportsmen’s community. 

4. Ohio sportsmen and women have long enjoyed access to 60,000 acres of American Electric Power’s Recreation lands. Recently AEP announced its intention to sell the property, which comprises approximately 10% of all available public lands in Ohio. Estimates on retaining the property run as high as $150 million dollars, which is more than the Ohio Division of Wildlife can afford on its own.  Will you create a multi-faceted plan that includes bond dollars, general revenue funds and other sources to help secure the preservation of this critical public access to conservation habitat? 

Cordray: Yes. Large tracts of contiguous habitat are increasingly rare in Ohio. It would be grossly short-sighted to lose access to these key lands now available to the public, and it would greatly diminish eastern Ohio as a preferred destination for hunters, fishers, and trappers from here and from neighboring states. I will commit to working closely with the leadership of the sportsmen community to develop an effective plan for securing control of this essential conservation habitat that has the necessary funding components to achieve this important objective. Again, I would envision this including bonded debt as well as funding from other available sources. I would urge the sportsmen community to push hard to prevent the current political leadership from squandering this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve public access and the sustainability of this key habitat, and to allow my Administration the opportunity to consult with you to develop an effective plan to achieve our mutual goals here. 

DeWine: Yes. Ohioans will not lose access to this beautiful outdoor recreation area when I am governor. Although, we will need to be creative and seek many sources of funding including public and private opportunities. 

Schiavoni: Yes. While fishing with several sportsmen on Fish Ohio Day, I learned about this and other critical Division of Wildlife issues in great detail. The ReCreation lands have been an incredibly valuable asset to Ohio sportsmen and women for years.  

This issue has to be a priority. Ohio’s next governor must take a hands-on approach and help the Division of Wildlife negotiate to either buy these lands, lease them, or find a way to continue to allow Ohio sportsmen and women to utilize them. As governor, I will gladly meet with all interested parties to keep these lands available to sportsmen’s organizations in the most fiscally responsible manner possible. 

Taylor: Yes,the AEP land has been an amazing resource for the people of Ohio for years and I am committed to ensuring that it continues to be available for public use. The decision by AEP to sell creates both a challenge and an opportunity for the State of Ohio and I will be absolutely committed to marshalling all available resources and crafting a long-term plan that inspires confidence that the land will be available for generations to come.

5. The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s wildlife officer ranks are currently understaffed by 25 officers, a historic low.  Will you restore wildlife officer ranks to full staffing levels, including a minimum of one wildlife officer per county, and a fully-staffed Lake Erie unit? 

Cordray: Yes. From my prior experience with these issues and in ongoing discussions with members and leadership of the sportsmen’s community, it has been clear that our wildlife officers are critical to educating and encouraging the sportsmen community to thrive in Ohio. This means having the time and commitment to developing future generations of sportsmen as well as being able to staff up sufficiently to monitor and protect our public habitat for access by the sportsmen community and against potential abuses by others that would undermine or threaten this habitat and the way of life that depends upon it. The staffing levels described here are entirely appropriate and definitely needed and my Administration will support and maintain them. 

DeWine: While Ohio’s budget situation in 2019 is unclear, it is obvious that Ohio needs more wildlife officers who spend time in their county and interact with Ohio sportsmen. That will be a priority when I am Governor.

Schiavoni: Yes. People expect their hunting, fishing and trapping license fees to be used to staff the offices they interact with as sportsmen. There is no reason these positions should not be filled, and leaving them vacant is detrimental to our state. 

As stated above, The Division of Wildlife must be staffed with individuals who care deeply about sportsmen’s issues and understand them better than any politician ever would. These roles are critical to not only Ohio outdoorsmen but to the preservation and protection of our state’s natural resources. We cannot continue to allow these roles to go unfilled.

This is especially true when it comes to Lake Erie. I’ve recently been traveling the state speaking to experts about major Ohio water issues, such as the algae blooms in Lake Erie. This past Summer, I went out with a scientist from the Ohio Sea Grant Program to see the algal bloom in person and ask questions about how we can address this growing issue.

A fully staffed Lake Erie unit is a solid step we can take right now to monitor and help address issues that arise in our Great Lake. As governor, I will make sure this issue is a state priority. I will fight to keep Ohio’s water safe, clean, and protected for future generations. 

Taylor: I am committed to working with the sportsmen’s community to identify the appropriate staffing levels and to fund the necessary positions. If the evidence supports an officer in every single county, I will support it, but I will want to work with you to see the support for those staffing levels before committing.

6. Wildlife law enforcement requires specific and comprehensive training unique to hunting, fishing and trapping, separate from other, more traditional law enforcement agencies in the ODNR and the state of Ohio. Will you commit to maintaining the unique and separate wildlife law enforcement section under the direction of the Chief of the Oho Division of Wildlife?

Cordray: Yes. I am well aware that these are not generic law enforcement functions where these officers can be viewed as fungible with any other type of law enforcement officer. The job these professionals do is unique to the traditional way of life of Ohio’s sportsmen community. It requires sensitivity and dedication to the mission and to preserving this way of life, including both understanding and helping to maintain key habitat, public access, and the kinds of specialized needs that our hunters, fishermen, and trappers have. In short, it requires officers we can count on to be dedicated themselves to the sportsmen way of life here and who will see it as a key part of their role to engage in education, monitoring, encouragement, and fierce protection of these activities and this way of life. That necessarily involves training unique to hunting, fishing, and trapping. But it also means maintaining a close association, cooperation, and consultation with the sportsmen community and a recognition of this key aspect of Ohio’s economy and its longstanding traditions as reflected in how these officers do their jobs on a daily basis. 

DeWine: Yes. Wildlife law enforcement officers are an important part of the sportsmen and outdoor community. 

Schiavoni: Yes. Absolutely. Like you said, wildlife law enforcement requires specific training and experience that is directly related to the position. These individuals need to be able to work closely with other sportsmen and women every single day. That means they must be working with, not working against, the Ohioans they are serving.  

I never write bills without the help of the people on the ground who understand the issue best. It’s the same idea here. The people who know the issues related to wildlife law enforcement are the ones who deal with it in their daily lives. A good leader recognizes this fact and makes sure the most qualified people continue to fill each position. 

Taylor: Yes, I believe the confidence and support of the sportsmen’s community is critical to the success of the Division of Wildlife, and I understand that the movement to combine functions with other ODNR divisions has caused a great deal of concern within the hunting community. The separate wildlife law enforcement section is an important part of earning the confidence of the hunting community, and I will commit to keeping them separate. 

7. Because hunting, fishing and trapping license fees are only raised every 10-15 years, the fee hikes are often high enough to shock license sales and reduce participation by 5-10 percent.  Studies have shown that granting the executive branch the authority to raise fees administratively in smaller increments, on a more frequent basis, would address funding concerns, and help prevent the loss of customers that come with higher increases.

In your executive budget will you include language that grants fee increase authority to the Chief of the Division of Wildlife, while still remaining under the controls of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review?

Cordray: Yes. The funding needs of the sportsmen community, which have been neglected under current leadership in this state, must receive attention and be addressed on an ongoing and consistent basis. I am familiar with the kind of economic shock described here from other areas of state government as well, such as the periodic adjustments that have to be made to the state pension systems to keep pace with the demands of those obligations. Here, as there, we are far better off if those needs are addressed on a smoother and more incremental basis, rather than piling up the need until a crisis occurs and hunters, fishers, and trappers both in Ohio and those who come to Ohio for our preferred habitat are put off or discouraged, as a sheer financial matter, from engaging in these activities. Without addressing this issue as suggested here, we endanger the funding base of these operations for current and future generations. 

DeWine: I will commit to working with the legislature to find a better process that allows flexibility to for the state to maintain and expand facilities and programs while encouraging more Ohioans to use the outdoors.  

Schiavoni: Yes. I always trust the people on the front lines of each issue to understand the issue better than politicians. Licensing fees and related responsibilities should be entrusted to a Division of Wildlife Chief who understands the needs of sportsmen and women, and who is knowledgeable about the impact of laws governing the agency.  If the Chief of the Division of Wildlife feels incremental license fee increases will be benefit the field, then their judgement is the one we should trust.

Taylor: Yes, I understand the need for license fees to keep pace with the needs of the Division, and I am confident that the rule making process provides sufficient oversight over fee increases.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn