By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Reader, please note - This is a fast-breaking news story and further additions and changes are expected. Please return periodically for any updates, including a lengthy statement made today (April 25th) by Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer. The latest update was performed at 7:10 p.m., April 25th.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has pulled the plug on any increases to hunting and fishing license fees for residents.
And putting the brakes on the Wildlife Division and its employees officially backing any license fee increase was what the Natural Resources Department said in a short, terse e-mail note to this writer and one other reporter. That short missive reads:
“At this time, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife does not support a license fee increase on Ohio’s hunters and anglers. While we appreciate the support of our sportsmen, we are seeking efficiencies and savings within the Department that will result in a higher level of service, without raising license fees.”
The Departmental communiqué bears the sender as being Petering but includes the notation that any further contact be directed to Natural Resources agency spokesman Matt Eiselstein.
“The position of the department is that we need to look at fiscally responsible ways to achieve our goals before we ask Ohio’s sportsmen and women to pay more for hunting and fishing opportunities,” Eiselstein said.
Those efforts have included fact-finding in regard to office space and property values, including D-1, says Eiselstein said in a second electronically sent memo on the subject.
“The appraisal is an initial step in determining the value of an asset. Any discussion at this point regarding plans for the property beyond determining and examining its value would be premature, as no course of action has been determined,” Eiselstein said.
Still, reports are suggesting that the Wildlife Division will move D-1 to Fountain Square with the expectation that it will pay the Department an annual rental fee of up to $500,000.
However, in a third round of notations the Natural Resources Department is now pulling back from its back-stepping in regards to whether to increase non-resident fishing and hunting license fees.
Eislstein noted to this writer in an April 25th electronic exchange that his statement of no fee increases was a reference to "Ohio's sportsmen and women..."
"Non-resident fees are being considered separately, and this does not have to be a both or neither scenario," Eislstein said in his latest electronic posting.
All of this twisting and turning on the increasingly complex matter follows on the heels of the April 14th “Ohio Outdoor News” story “Ohio groups push on for license hike.”
This fee jump was especially aimed at non-resident deer hunters. The ad hoc assembly pointed out that Ohio charges the least expensive non-resident deer-hunting fee package of “…any quality white-tailed deer hunting state in the country…” citing a figure of $149 while the average for such states is $393.
Consequently, Eiselstein says he doesn’t believe that Petering’s comments “or any subsequent statements indicate a reversal of our position.”
Even so, backing the idea of license fee increases – and thus supporting Petering’s former-proposal endorsement – were all six of the current members comprising the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council.
As such, the signers said the state’s hunters and anglers are taking note of the several counties “where wildlife officers are no longer present because the agency lacks the funds to hold a cadet class to replace retiring officers.”
In concluding their declaration of support for license fee increases the six Wildlife Council members stated “For these reasons, the Ohio Wildlife Council is calling on you Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly to support these very modest increases that would be paid entirely by those who use these Resources.”
Since the need for additional funding is “abundantly clear,” Hesusinkveld also says, the turn-about only “makes the Department’s position not only confusing, given its past support, but unsatisfactory as well.”
Thus, while fiscal responsibility and efficiency are vital, “serving the paying public and quality is even more important,” Heusinkveld said as well.
And efforts at being fiscally responsible and equally fiscally fair are what helped motivate Ohio Wildlife Council member/secretary Thomas A. Vorisek of Gahanna to back the fee increase concept and plant his name to the group’s declaration of support.
Jeffrey L. Frischkorn