Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday's rains could dampen Monday's exceptional deer harvest

Ohio's chief deer management biologist wonders if Monday's 12.5-percent opening day deer kill gain was diluted by today's (Tuesday's) continuous heavy rains and high winds.

Regardless, the state's 420,000 to 450,000 hunters earned their deer-management stripes Monday when they killed a preliminary 37,805 white-tails. That figure is a 12.5-percent jump from the 2009 opener deer harvest of 33,607 animals.

Mike Tonkovich - the Ohio Division of Wildlife's deer management administrator - credits two factors for the jump in the opening day harvest. Chief among them was excellent weather with milds temperatures, light winds and sunny skies. Those elements merged to keep hunters in the field instead of fleeing for the comforts of home or deer camp, Tonkovich said.

The second prong, Tonkovich says, is a good white-tail carry-over from the lower-than-typical deer kill during the first six weeks of the state's archery deer-hunting season. That first six weeks showed a general decline in the deer harvest, attributed to a massive white oak acorn crop that kept deer where the hunters weren't.

"I fully expected the harvest to be up for the opener; in fact, at this point there is only a 646 animal harvested difference between the total to-date kill between last year and this year," Tonkovich said. "So we are spot on for the harvest."

That being said, however, Tonkovich believes that Tuesday's heavy downpour and the forecast for snow and possibly a return to rain in some parts of the state at least for Saturday could cut into the gains.

"Maybe we'll pick up during the two-day bonus season and the muzzle-loading season," Tonkovich says. "But no question, the deer are there."

As for the individual county-by-county deer check-in reports those are across the board in nearly every one of Ohio's 88 counties.

Still, Tonkovich reminds hunters that these figures are preliminary only. They represent where deer were officially checked in and not necessarily in the county where taken, Tonkovich said.

With that being said, here are the preliminary deer check-in for various counties, with their 2009 opening day figures in paranthesis: Lake - 83 (63); Geauga - 268 (188); Cuyahoga - 30 (25); Ashtabula - 983 and ranked 8th for Monday's opener (836); Trumbull - 639 (572); Lorain - 233 (210); Medina - 200 (146); Erie - 96 (112); Tuscarawas - 1,806 (1,793); Harrison - 1,439 (1,374); Guernsey - 1,406 (1,284).

Ohio's firearms deer-hunting season runs through Sunday. A bonus two-day firearms deer-hunting season is set for Dec. 18 and 19 with the statewide muzzle-loading season set for Jan. 8-11.

For the all-seasons' 2009 deer kill, hunters shot 261,314 white-tails. Ohio's pre-all-hunting-seasons' deer population was estimated at 750,000 animals.

- Jeffre L. Frischkorn

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lake County to lose 24/7 deer check station; new system awaits

Northeast Ohio's only 24/7 game check station will go dark after December 5, the last day of the state's seven-day firearms deer-hunting season.

Giles Marathon, located on Rt. 306 in Willoughby, will transition itself into a Speedway, the work starting Dec. 6.

Thus, says officials with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the station will no longer serve hunters as a game check station.

A Wildlife Division official said also she does not believe a replacement game check station for Lake County is in the works.

Lake County's current two other game check stations are Gander Mountain's Mentor store on Diamond Centre Drive, and Great Lakes Outdoors Supply on Route 20, Madison Township.

Of the state's 484 or so game check stations listed in the Wildlife Division's 2010/2011 hunting-trapping regulation digest, only around 13 are open 24/7. Make that "12" with the impending loss of Giles Marathon.

However, all of this old-style way of registering a deer or turkey kill will end next year. It will begin with Ohio's spring wild turkey-hunting season and go through the deer-hunting season.

The Wildlife Division is now trying to work out the bugs on an Internet/telephone-based license-issuing and game check program. This new system will allow hunters to record for themselves their deer or turkey kills by using a computer or a telephone.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Glacial pace marks Brown County wildlife officer issues

At the nucleus of the on-going ethics and legal questions swirling around what’s being called the “Brown County Five,” rests Allan Wright, the state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County.

Among the Wright-related items being looked at is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources forwarding material to the Ohio Ethics Commission. This information transfer centers on Wright’s affiliation as a so-called “pro staff” member with a Michigan-based custom muzzle-loading rifle builder.

The Department gave the material to the Ohio Ethics Commission so that the latter agency can “provide advice” as it relates to any potential violation of Ohio’s ethics rules, a Natural Resources official said.

Related to the legal issues intertwined with this entire episode, in November 2006 Wright allowed his home address to be used by a South Carolina wildlife officer in order to buy an Ohio resident hunting license.

In regards to the law pertaining to deliberately skirting residency requirements, the Ohio Revised Code establishes that “No person shall procure or attempt to procure a hunting license by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or any false statement.”

In cases of this type an offender can be charged with a forth-degree misdemeanor. Such an offense is punishable by a fine of up to $250, 30 days in jail, or both. In addition, a judge can suspend an offender’s hunting or fishing license privileges.

“... as with most other potential wildlife violations, the officer has the discretion to determine whether the action warrants a citation or not depending on the circumstances of the case at hand,” said Mike Shelton, the Natural Resources Department’s chief of external affairs, in an e-mail sent today (Nov. 24) to The News-Herald.

Confusion arising from a non-resident seeking help from a license-issuing agent who then provides incorrect advice is an example where leeway is an option for a wildlife officer, Shelton said.

In Wright’s case the officer received an Ohio Division of Wildlife verbal reprimand on Sept. 18, 2008 for “...failure of good behavior,” though the rebuke acknowledged that Wright “... had supervisory guidance to do so...”

This reprimand was expunged from Wright’s personnel file on Sept. 18, 2009 and as required by conditions spelled out in the official document, Shelton said.

All of which set into motion a months-long chain of events that included felony charges being brought against five Wildlife Division officials.

The charges stem from a belief held by Brown County Prosecutor Jessica A. Little that the five officials - including agency chief David M. Graham - should have handled the Wright issue as a criminal matter and not as an administrative matter.

Little acted upon an investigation conducted by the Ohio Inspector General’s office of the five agency officials. It is this office which turned its findings over to Little.

In April, the five administrators were indicted in Brown County Common Pleas Court on two felony counts each. Wright was also charged in the same court with two felony counts and one misdemeanor count.

During the on-going course of legal activity, Little appointed David Kelley as the special prosecutor for the Wright case. Kelley is also an assistant prosecutor in adjacent Adams County where he served from 2001 to 2008 as its prosecutor before being called to active military duty.

In May, Kelley announced that he was dropping all charges against Wright, pending an independent investigation and possible presentation of evidence to a Brown County Grand Jury.

Subsequently, Wright returned to his wildlife officer post in Brown County.

Likewise, after a several-month period of being placed on paid administrative leave the five Wildlife Division officials were called back to work Nov. 19 by out-going Natural Resources Department director Shawn Logan.

The long-term absence of the five officials cost the Wildlife Division about $250,000.

However, the charges against these five officials remain with Little having filed an appeal before the state’s 12th District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

She made this appeal after being rebuffed by Brown County Common Pleas Court Judge Scott T. Gusweiler on a legal issue called the Garrity Rule. This legal fiat protects at least some civil servants from making potentially self-incriminating statements to an investigating agency such as the Ohio Inspector General.

Still left unanswered is the current status of both Kelley’s investigative work and any investigation that might be on-going by the Ohio Ethics Commission.

“I really can’t comment on on-going investigations; I’m waiting on a couple of things, including the appeal,” Kelley said. “I’m kind of letting that run its course, but regardless of which way (the appeal) goes it won’t be the deciding factor. However, it can determine the manner in which the investigation proceeds.”

Kelley did say too that he anticipates the matter will “progress within the next 60 to 120 days.”

“I don’t see any need for this to be dragged out forever,” Kelley said.

What is known is that the Natural Resources Department forwarded to the Ohio Ethics Commission the Department's findings about Wright’s connection with Okemos, Michigan-based Ultimate Firearms company. This firm makes high-end muzzle-loading rifles with one “Ultimate Muzzleloader” model starting at $3,750.

“In addition, we requested the Ohio Ethics Commission to provide advice regarding Officer Wright’s pro shop activity on April 15, 2010,” said Shelton, in a Nov. 22 e-mail sent to The News-Herald.

Ultimate Firearms’ web site posts Wright as a member of the firm’s pro staff. It also notes in the pro staff section that Wright is an “Ohio Wildlife Officer.”

Among Ultimate Firearms’ other listed pro staff members are such well-known television hunting show personalities as Bob Foulkrod, Brenda Valentine, and Hank Parker.

In his Ultimate Firearms “Testimonials” web site appearance, Wright is quoted as saying “.. Being a wildlife officer with two young boys, time is a valued commodity at my household, and the ease of cleaning the Ultimate Muzzleloader is one of the most important features of shooting the firearm.”

Wright also is featured on the web site’s “300 Yard Club” posting, showing him with a coyote shot at 300 yards or more with an Ultimate Firearms’ muzzle-loading rifle.

Previously, Ultimate Firearms had declined to comment on any association with Wright.

As for the Natural Resources Department’s forwarding of information about Wright’s association with Ultimate Firearms to the Ohio Ethics Commission, that agency is required by law to remain mum, officials there say.

“We cannot comment on any matters that are of an investigative nature by (state) statute,” said Susan Willeke, the agency’s education and communications administrator.

Asked, however, to speak in the broadest of context on how long most investigations take to complete, Willeke said “that it’s tough to predict.”

“We (always) do want it to be thorough, which is what the public expects,” Willeke said.

Messages seeking comment on these matters have been left with Wright at his Wildlife Division-supplied telephone number.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Hartsgrove BP to host test of state's new deer check-in system

Northeast Ohio deer hunters can become human guinea pigs in a test of the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s impending new hunting/fishing license-issuing and game check system.

Beginning Monday at select sites the Wildlife Division will seek out successful deer hunters. These sportsmen then will be asked if they would volunteer to participate in a trial run of the new $16 million Wild Ohio Customer Relationship Management System check-in process.

Monday is the start of Ohio’s seven-day firearms deer-hunting season.

In all, 17 sites around the state will host the test of the new Internet/telephone-only product. Among them is the BP station/food mart located on Hartsgrove Square in Ashtabula County.

Here, Wildlife Division officials will post themselves, soliciting volunteers and helping those who say “yes” to engage the system, says Mike Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division’s deer management administrator.

As for how much time it will take to fulfill the check-in process that will combine the “old system” and the “new system,” Tonkovich says the entire process will require about 10 minutes of a hunter’s time.

A series of nine questions will be asked along with the conducting of other details. All of will aid the Wildlife Division in ferreting out the new system’s bugs, said Tonkovich.

“The idea is to identify problems with the system and then make adjustments accordingly,” Tonkovich said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ohio's young deer hunters bring home less bacon for their own two-day hunt

Even with pleasant weather this past weekend, Ohio’s young guns failed to top the harvest seen during last year’s youth-only firearms deer-hunting season.

For the two-day hunt conducted Saturday and Sunday - Nov. 20 and 21 - properly licensed hunters aged 17 and under shot a preliminary 9,024 deer. During the 2009 youth-only gun hunt the kids killed 9,331 deer.

This decline somewhat mirrored the drop in the kill for first six weeks of Ohio’s archery deer-hunting season.

However, the youth-only gun season kill was up in Northeast Ohio, with the exception of Lake County. Here, the preliminary harvest figures were identical: 14 deer killed last youth-only gun season and 14 deer taken during this year’s youth-only gun season.

Geauga County saw a kill of 40 deer this youth-only season, a preliminary gain of just two animals taken there during the 2009 youth-only season.

Cuyahoga County saw an increase as well; from the 6 deer shot there during the 2009 hunt and up this season to a preliminary 11 animals.

The local heavyweight - Ashtabula County - likewise experienced a gain. This year’s youth-only season saw a preliminary 149 deer killed and compared to the 117 deer taken there during the 2009 youth-only two-day season.

Trumbull County’s youth-only kill was up by only one animal. This year’s preliminary youth-only deer kill was 97 animals; last year it was 96 deer.

Lorain County saw a modest increase. Here, young hunters shot a preliminary 84 deer and compared to the 61 animals shot there during the 2009 season. Huron County experienced gained ground by an even less modest amount: Up 108 deer this season from the 105 deer killed there during last year's youth-only season.

Medina County noted a pretty big drop, though. This year the young hunters there killed a preliminary 49 deer, down from the 72 deer shot there in 2009.

Knox County was one of the counties that scored a huge gain: From 265 deer shot there during the 2009 youth-only season to 416 deer during this year’s youth-only season.

Many of the other traditional high deer-kill counties in southeast Ohio saw slight to modest declines. Among them were Guernsey County (265 deer this season compared to 276 animals last youth-only season), Muskingum County (179 deer this youth-only season compared to 198 deer last youth-only season), and Harrison County (265 deer killed this youth-only season compared to the 351 animals shot there last youth-only season).

Of course, the unsuccessful youth hunters can join their elders for Ohio’s general firearms deer-hunting season. This season will run Nov. 29 through Dec. 5 with a “bonus” two-day gun season set for Dec. 18 and 19.

Ohio has an estimated 450,000 to 500,000 deer hunters. The Ohio Division of Wildlife estimates that between 125,000 and possibly as high as 130,000 deer will be shot during the up-coming firearms deer-hunting season.

The all-seasons' deer kill could reach 250,000 or more animals out of a population estimated at around 750,000.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Saying good-by to waterfowl season hard as winter closes in

And just like that, it’s over.

Probably, or mostly, anyway. Which is a real shame since I’ve enjoyed watching the sun rise above the far tree line and then sprinkle the pond’s water with flecks of morning light.

Today was more threatening in its appearance, though. While the actual timing of the sun rising was on cue its glory was being over-shadowed by a heavy cloak of darkened clouds. The sky was a shade of sinful black and later threatened with loud claps of thunder and bursts of lightening.

A nasty bit of southwest wind was cutting deep furrows in the water, too, adding liveliness to the two remaining goose decoys and the like number of standard-size mallard duck decoys.

From a branch just out of arm’s reach of the goose-hunting blind hung a cheap hardware store thermometer I had attached to a piece of brush. The tool’s face was recording a temperature of 56 degrees, way too warm for this time of year.

And in another week the nearby landscape will be blotched with stains of hunter orange, the color of the season for firearms deer-hunting participants. While I could legally continue to hunt ducks and geese then I won’t. That’s because the landowner and his son are planning to cast a shooting net on what they hope will be a large buck.

To go banging away at waterfowl while they’re in the adjacent woodlot trying to kill a deer would anger the most temperate of landowners.

So I hope against hope that once the firearms deer-hunting season concludes I’ll get another crack at shooting a Canada goose. It’s just a thought and one likely not to bear fruit.

More times than I like to remember Ohio’s firearms deer-hunting season is plagued by snowy and cold weather of the kind that takes a choke hold on the pond’s open water. Either the pond is entirely encapsulated in ice or so nearly as such that I would not - will not - risk sending Blackberry, my black Labrador retriever, out to fetch a downed goose or duck.

Which explains why I need to get my licks in now, before the forecast of arctic cold zips shut the pond.

For that reason alone I was in the makeshift goose-hunting blind, looking out over the sacrificial decoys that I could spare if they become ice-bound statues.

Gone back to his Florida home was my father-in-law. He joined me on the general waterfowl season opener where he shot his first-ever Canada goose. Gone too was Steve Myers, busy with his new janitorial duties at Eageville Bible Church along with planning an expedition for the gun deer season.

Terry, my oldest brother, wasn’t around either. His Labrador retriever, Ben, just had major surgery to fix some serious (and seriously expensive) damage to a torn ligament. Ben will be out for the rest of the hunting year and that’s a powerful drag on Terry’s bird-hunting enthusiasm.

Even Beverly, my wife, is probably finished for the remainder of the waterfowl hunting season; or what will probably occur as a result of the all-but-guaranteed freeze-up of the pond.

Besides, Bev's busy trying to kill a deer with archery tackle. She has circled Friday and Saturday on the calendar, reserving the two dates for all-day archery hunting if that becomes necessary. I understand and heartily endorse her plans.

“Looks like just you me, Berry,” I said as I looked over the blind at the dog.

Berry was steadfast, determined to keep to her post. Her butt was anchored to a spit of muddy earth that stood between the blind and the pond’s edge.

This is how the two of us had started our waterfowling during September’s early Canada goose-only hunting season. And this, no doubt, is how our goose-hunting season will draw tightly in on itself.

I don’t mind. Really I don’t. I cut my hunting eyeteeth on hunting ducks and graduated to geese beginning in 1976. That’s when Tom Daly and I each bagged a goose on the second day that the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge ever conducted a controlled goose hunt.

I wonder whatever happened to Tom? I’d like to hunt geese with him one more time.

Yet while I enjoy companionship when waterfowling, it isn’t always mandatory. That is, so long as I have a Labrador retriever to debate life's critical issues and a long row of tethered goose calls to work in an effort to communicate with a flock of the real deal.

Of course I still have the waterfowling itch. Thus, I expect to visit the goose-hunting blind a couple of more times this week; Thanksgiving for sure and probably Saturday as well.

And after that? Well, let’s take it one step at a time. Maybe I’ll luck out and early December will see unseasonably warm temperatures and an open farm pond.

But if good weather migrates south and the pond closes its doors for the rest of the goose-hunting season, then so be it. What I do know is that it’s been a good ride all things being considered.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Friday, November 19, 2010

UPDATED Five felony-indicted Wildlife Division officials back on job today

Out-going Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Shawn Logan today reinstated to their positions the five felony-indicted Ohio Division of Wildlife officials.

These officials are the agency’s chief, David Graham; assistant chief, Randy Miller; law enforcement administrator, James Lehman; Todd Haines, director of the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District 5 (southwest Ohio) office; and Michelle Ward-Tackett, the agency’s human resources manager.

The five have been on paid administrative since April 8. The department has paid out more than $250,000 in salaries to these five officials during this administrative leave period. These officials have a combined total service of more than 138 years.

For the full story see today's (Friday, Nov. 19) The News-Herald's web site at www.news-herald.com.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

On board with gun deer-hunt primer and well-deserved boating honors

Ohio’s annual sportsmen love affair with all things white-tailed deer blazes across the hunting zenith November 29.

That is when the state’s seven-day firearms deer hunting season begins. This season is said to attract more than 400,000 participants. They may shoot more than 130,000 deer, too, representing a good chunk of the annual white-tailed kill.

Leading up to this point are the preliminaries: One of the nation’s longest archery deer-hunting seasons and a special muzzle-loading deer-hunting season on three designated areas.

Add to these hunts is this weekend’s youth-only firearms deer-hunting season. And this season may provide some clues as to how the “adult” hunt will go 10 days from now.

As a reminder to anyone interested in archery hunting Saturday and Sunday, be mindful of a wrinkle the law requires during these two days. All hunters except waterfowlers - and that includes all archery hunters - must visibly wear “a vest, coat, jacket, or coveralls that are either solid hunter orange or camouflage hunter orange” from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset," reads the Ohio Division of Wildlife-supplied hunting and trapping regulations digest.

However, archery deer hunters can stay afield until one-half hour after sunset, also as noted in the state's hunting law digest.

Accompanying the up-coming season is one of the busiest times for sporting goods stores, especially those that are particularly flavored with the selling of hunting gear. Not to mention the sale of hunting licenses and deer tags.

This is the period in which more of these documents are sold than at any other time of the year. And all driven by a multi-million dollar bang for the buck to Ohio’s economy.

The Wildlife Division is at full battle alert, too. The agency is cranking out more than a few press releases on the subject. While these statements may give a glossy view of the firearms deer-hunting season they certainly include valuable pieces of information.

Among them is one that suggests people looking for information about the upcoming youth gun and white-tailed deer hunting seasons, or to report violations of state wildlife laws, can take advantage of extended call center hours from Nov. 20 to Dec. 5.

The 1-800-WILDLIFE (800-945-3543) general hunting information hot-line will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday in order to accommodate those hunters with questions about the youth-only season.

Staff also will be available prior to and during the regular firearms deer-hunting season. These special call center hours are:

n 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Nov. 26.
n 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Nov. 27 and 28.
n 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Nov. 29 through Dec. 3.
n 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Dec. 4 and 5.
n However, the hot-line will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.

In other outdoors-related news, two area and one former area resident have received high recognition from the nation’s recreational boating industry.

Among those receiving praise from the Marine Retailers Association of America is retiring Sen. George V. Voinich. who received the group’s Legislative Award.

This honor is given to a lawmaker who has worked in some way to advance the recreational boating industry. Voinovich has been a strong supporter of the industry and the Great Lakes as mayor of Cleveland, governor of Ohio and later as a senator,” the group said.

Along with the one presented to Voinicich another honor was awarded to John Sima, owner and president of Sima Marine, a family-owned dealership and marina in Eastlake.

Sima’s parents started Sima Marine in 1952, and his father, Jim, also once served as chairman of the MRAA.

Sima said he was shocked to receive the honor, adding, “this business is our life.”

The organization’s Jerry Marine Journalism Award was presented to former Mentor resident Norm Schultz, who writes Soundings Trade Only’s semiweekly “Dealer Outlook” blog.

Schultz retired to the Tampa, Fla. area a few years ago.

“Receiving the Jerry Martin Journalism Award has very special meaning for me because Jerry and I both came out of Johnson Outboards, and his contributions to MRAA and the industry were truly remarkable,” Schultz said. “He was a generous counselor and a friend to me.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ohio's pilot hunt/fish license system a really slow boat to China

Even though it was early afternoon with little shopping foot traffic, a line of customers was beginning to form behind me at the check-out counter of Gander Mountain’s Mentor store.

Trying to do my best to avoid the gaze from the anxiously awaiting customers, I focused instead on what the sales clerk was doing for me. That being, issuing an antlerless-only deer-hunting permit.

No biggie there, but for one thing. The issuance was electronically motivated, data entered and the document spat out. Eventually, anyway. Maybe even before the start of the firearms deer-hunting season.

It was all a brand-spanking new way for the state to provide me with the proper documentation. If only it wasn’t slower than poured molasses on a cold January morning.

Gander Mountain’s Mentor store ranks sixth in the number of hunting/fishing licenses sold in Ohio. As such, the store was selected as one of about 75 or so other issuing agents to be lab rats for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s $16 million Wild Ohio Customer Relationship Management System. It will replace the agency’s existing point-of-sales issuing system, effective March 1, 2011.

The rub comes from the deathly unhurried way the “new-and-improved” $16 million system was gorging itself on the supplied data and then being so kind as to type up the actual paper permit.

Have I said yet that the system is going to eat up $16 million of the state’s hunters’ and anglers’ dollars?

Slow is not the word with even the sales clerk noting through a forced smile that no permit issued by the store has seen the light of day in anything resembling an acceptable period of waiting time.

So what is the solution being offered by officials with the Wildlife Division to counter the tardy way the new $16 million system issues documents?

“Buy licenses and permits early to avoid lines.”

That’s it? Really? Seriously? The Wildlife Division's best answer is to head to the nearest license sales outlet before anyone else in order to beat the crowds?

That’s sort of like sleeping on an outlet mall’s sidewalk so you can take advantage of Black Friday pre-holiday sales.

Fact is, the Wildlife Division has collected onto itself a new $16 million system that produces an inferior-delivered product.

To make matters worse I literally had to look over the sales attendant’s shoulder as the person set about entering my personal information. There was no alternative for requiring this hawk-eye view, either.

Otherwise the record would have shown that my name wasn’t the same that I had inherited at birth and my Social Security number didn’t match the one issued to me by the federal government a long time ago. Had to keep an eye out for those misspellings and typos, you know.

Consequently, I quiver to think what’s going to happen toward the end of next week when a large volume of general hunting licenses and deer permits are sold. Imagine a long line of toe-tapping, less-than-enthralled holiday shoppers standing behind an equally anxious hunter; all held hostage by a slower-than-a-tortoise license-issuing system.

One that will cost Ohio's hunters and anglers $16 million, too.

And I shudder when I ponder the implications when the new $16 million system takes a full-nelson hold March 1 on not only the selling of required licenses and permits but also on the way Ohio deer and turkey hunters check in their respective kills.

Maybe the bugs can be worked out on the new $16 million license-issuing system. And maybe the firm that designed the system’s software and such can learn from what the 75 pilot agents are discovering.

But to turn a quote regularly given by a famous American politician: This is not a change that I can believe in.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ohio Farm Bureau backs state Ag Dept nominee; says too early to say impact on outdoors issues

Praising governor-elect John Kasich’s pick of state Rep. James Zehringer, R-77, as the newest director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture is the Ohio Farm Bureau.

Zenringer will replace out-going Ashtabula County resident, Robert Boggs, an appointee of Gov. Ted Strickland who lost Nov. 2 to Kasich.

“We see this is being very positive for agriculture in the state," said Joe Cornely, spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau. "Rep. Zehringer has experience as a farmer, as a businessman, and also in state government. So when you put that background together it will serve the citizens of Ohio very well.”

The Ohio Farm Bureau has about 215,000 members of which around 60,000 are farmers, both full-time and part-time.

Cornely said also he wouldn’t be surprised to see an extensive look taken at state government revamping in order to see how it can better deliver its products.

“There’s been a lot of discussion for years that we have more government then we can afford,” Cornely said. “When you look at the current budget direction with a possible $8 billion deficit something is going to have to change.

How that change will come about, however, is the unanswered question.

Even so, it is way too premature to discuss how any restructuring of state government - a key Kasich campaign talking point - will impact Ohio’s natural resources issues in general and fish and game policies in particular, Cornely says as well.

Rumblings that Kasich and the state legislature will create a super Agriculture Department that will control elements impacting hunters, anglers, naturalists and the like have picked up steam.

“That’s a micro-policy issue; it’s just too much of a stretch,” Cornely said. “Certainly there are areas where both farmers and sportsmen need to come together and come to terms with each other.”

For now, Cornely says, it is the role of the Ohio Farm Bureau to represent its members’ interest, “making our case for what we believe state government can do for Ohio.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ohio's deer tag sales shrink with reduced first six-week archery deer kill

A drop of eight percent in the first six-week Ohio archery deer-hunting season harvest has spilled over to a near-corresponding fall in sales of either-sex deer tags.

Approximate real-time sales of Ohio’s so-called “special deer permits” - which allow the taking of any deer and of either sex - stands at 152,074 documents. For the same period of Feb. 15, 2009 to Oct. 31, 2009 the Ohio Division of Wildlife sold 161,879 special deer permits. That is a drop of just over 6 percent.

This special deer permit sales decline has resulted in a revenue loss for the Wildlife Division of $235,320.

However, the decline in sales of antlerless-only deer permits was not nearly so steep. For the period Feb. 15, 2010 through Oct. 31, 2010, the Wildlife Division sold 87,304 antlerless-only deer permits. For the same period in 2009 the Wildlife Division sold 87,799 antlerless-only deer tags, or a drop of less than 1 percent.

Annual resident general hunting license sales have taken something of a hit, too.
For the period between Feb. 15, 2010 and Oct. 31, 2010, the Wildlife Division sold 189,199 resident general hunting licenses.

Last year for the same time segment the Wildlife Division sold 200,767 resident general hunting licenses. The revenue slope translates into a departure of $219,792 for the Wildlife Division, or a net loss of 5.76 percent.

Also off were sales of youth-only deer permits - a drop of 3.43 percent.

Gains, however, we seen in reduced-cost senior citizen deer tags - up 7.6 percent; reduced-cost senior citizen antlerless-only deer tags - up 9.8 percent, as well as reduced-cost senior citizen general hunting licences - up 9.63 percent.

But in each of these three cases the actual numbers of licenses sold was small, meaning only a marginal gain for the Wildlife Division’s bank account.

Down even more than the various resident general hunting licenses and individual deer tags are sales of the permits required to hunt fall wild turkey and waterfowl.

Sales of fall wild turkey hunting permits declined 11.55 percent: 5,700 such permits sold between Feb. 15, 2010 to Oct. 31, 2010, and compared to the 6,444 permits sold for the same period in 2009.

Off, too, are sales of the state’s waterfowl (duck) stamp. Here, the drop went from the 20,465 such state duck stamps sold from Feb. 15, 2009 to Oct. 31, 2009 to the 18,410 state duck stamps sold between Feb. 15, 2010 and Oct. 31, 2010.

Thus, overall, the Wildlife Division’s income has shrunk 2.47 percent, or a loss of $347,930.

In total dollar terms this means that the Wildlife Division’s revenue for the period between Feb. 15, 2010 and Oct. 31, 2010 was $13,714,955. For the same period in 2009 the agency’s revenue was $14,062,885.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rumors dog Brown County Five case; one official sets out to retire

Speculation and rumors that the Brown County Five felony-indicted state wildlife officials will cop to a reduced misdemeanor charge in exchange for retirement are just that - rumors.

And bad ones to boot.

Yet at least one item is true; that being, the filing of retirement paperwork by one of the indicted Ohio Division of Wildlife officials.

At issue is the on-going legal matter involving five top Wildlife Division officials: the agency’s chief, David Graham; one of its assistant chiefs, Randy Miller; it law enforcement administrator, James Lehman; Wildlife District Five (southwest Ohio) director, Todd Haines; and the Wildlife Division’s human resources manager, Michelle Ward-Tackett.

Miller - who has 31 years with the Wildlife Division - filed retirement paperwork on Nov. 1, with an effective date of Nov. 30, says Mike Shelton, the Natural Resources Department’s chief of legislative services/media relations.

Each of the indicted Wildlife Division officials has been charged in Brown County Court with two fifth-degree felony counts. Those are one count of obstructing justice and one count of complicity to obstructing justice. Each count can result in up to 12 months in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

All five officials were placed on paid administrative leave in April. The to-date paid administrative leave cost for the parent Ohio Department of Natural Resources is $239,000.

The court matter stems from an investigation conducted by the Ohio Inspector General’s office. It is alleged that the five officials should have handled differently a disciplinary matter involving the state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County; doing so as a criminal matter and not as an administrative issue.

It was alleged that Brown County wildlife officer Alan Wright allowed a South Carolina wildlife officer to use his Ohio address in obtaining an Ohio resident hunting license in 2006.

Felony charges against Wright were later dropped, however, requested by a special prosecutor assigned to the case who said also that he would conduct his own independent investigation. Nothing further has been heard regarding this matter, though.

Subsequently, legal wrangling involving the other Wildlife Division employees led Brown County Common Please Court Judge Scott T. Gusweiler to issue a decree that at least some of the evidence collected by the Ohio Inspector General be suppressed on a legal point known as the “Garrity Rule.”

This legal shield protects civil servants from making potentially self-incriminating statements to an investigating agency such as the Ohio Inspector General.

On the flip side, Brown County prosecutor Jessica A. Little has begun the process to reverse Gusweiler’s action. She is taking the steps required to appeal the decision before the state’s 12th District Court of Appeals. No further lower court action can take place until Little’s request is acted upon by the appellate court.

All of this was outlined in an Oct. 28 e-mail memo sent to Natural Resources Department employees by that agency’s deputy director, Tony Celebrezze.

As for the rumors that the indicted officials will seek a reduction in their charges in exchange for retiring from the Wildlife Division, it’s all news to Little.

And to Shelton, too.

“Their attorneys have not expressed that to me,” Little said.

Still, plea bargaining is always one of the cards available on the table, Little says.

“We always look for settlement in every case if something can be worked out, and this case would be no different,” she said.

And Shelton says also that such a deal lacks legs.

“That doesn’t make sense since all five can retire right now. I don’t see that happening,” Shelton said.

For now the entire episode remains within the purview of the courts, a situation that could take months to resolve.

A telephone request for a response to this matter was made to one of the defendants' attorneys but it was not returned.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Lake County's state wildlife officer takes new post

Moving up in the world of wildlife law enforcement in Ohio is Tom Rowan of Concord Township.

Rowan is becoming the new law enforcement supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) office in Akron. He will assume that role immediately after Ohio’s firearm’s deer-hunting season which runs Nov. 29 to Dec. 5.

A 15-year veteran of the Wildlife Division, Rowan also was a Chardon police officer.
During his Wildlife Division tenure, Rowan started out in 1996 as the state wildlife officer assigned to Lake County before moving on to take the same position in Ashtabula County.

From there Rowan took a posting in Columbus as the agency’s training officer for prospective wildlife officers. He then returned to Lake County in 2005 as its assigned wildlife officer.

“I don’t like to stay in one place to long,” Rowan said with a chuckle.

As the district’s law enforcement supervisor Rowan will take up responsibilities that focus on coordinating the law enforcement duties in the District's 19 counties.

“I’ll have four investigators working directly under me as well as working with the various county wildlife officers, but in a law enforcement capacity only,” Rowan said.

A native of Fairport Harbor Village, Rowan now considers Concord Township his home. His wife, Sabrina, is a teacher with the Fairport Harbor Exempted Village School District. They have one daughter, 13-year-old Macey, who accompanied her father on a successful Wyoming pronghorn antelope hunt earlier this fall.

“I think I might have had it a little easier than most other officers who come to Lake County because this is where I’m from,” Rowan also said.

A replacement for Rowan may be named within the next few weeks but likely won't come aboard until late December or early January, said Doug Miller, the District's manager.

It is Miller's old job that Rowan is taking.

"Tom's a great asset with more than 20 years of law enforcement experience and has lived his entire life in District Three," Miller said. "He's certainly been one of our best officer trainers and is a true professional."

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ohio's initial six week archery deer kill misses 2009's bull's-eye

With the woods of Ohio full of fat-rich white oak acorns, the state's deer herd has been making itself scarce for archery hunters.

Animals are bunched up in oak stands that are dropping their acorns. Consequently, the state's deer - said to number around 750,000 animals before the start of the hunting season - are not moving much. Which means archery hunters are seeing fewer animals to shoot at, Ohio Division of Wildlife officials are saying.

Not surprisingly then, Ohio's first six-week preliminary archery season deer kill is off 8 percent; 49,384 animals for the archery season's early portion and compared to the 53,959 animals killed during the same period in 2009.

Off specifically is the archery deer harvest in Northeast Ohio. However, even though the early portion deer kill in Ashtabula County fell the numbers were still strong enough that the county is ranked 6th in the state.

The first six-week kill for Ashtabula County was 1,247 animals. This compares to the 1,348 deer shot there during 2009's first six weeks of the archery hunting season.

Down proportionately even more was Lake County. Here, 390 deer were killed during the first six weeks. Last year for the same time frame the harvest was 504 deer.

Not impacted as much was Geauga County. The first six-week deer kill for Geauga County stands at 727 deer; off only 40 animals from the same season segment in 2009.

Trumbull County's deer kill was down also: 1,074 deer checked in for this season's first six weeks and compared to the 1,251 deer killed during the same six week unit in 2009. Still, Trumbull County is ranked 8th in 2010's first six-week deer kill.

Cuyahoga County was one of the lone exceptions, seeing its archery harvest increase instead of decrease. In Cuyahoga County for the first six weeks, archery hunters shot 417 deer, up from the 362 animals reported in 2009.

Lorain County saw a nearly identical first six-week deer kill this year when compared to last year. For the first six weeks of the 2010 archery deer hunting season, Lorain County bowmen shot 763 deer, a very small drop from the 774 deer shot there in 2009.

Other northern Ohio counties were (with their 2009 first six week deer kill in parenthesis): Medina - 519 (666); Erie - 243 (359); Huron - 529 (598); Ashland - 962 (1,139); Sandusky - 165 (216).

Other notable Ohio counties were: Tuscarawas - 1,897 (1,770) and ranked 1st.; Coshocton - 1,352 (1,451) and ranked 4th.; Guernsey - 1,029 (1,134) and ranked 9th.; Holmes - 1,537 (1,969) and ranked 3rd.; Licking - 1,779 (2,334) and ranked 2nd.; Harrison - 1,274 (1,278) and ranked 5th.

Ohio's archery deer hunting season runs through Feb. 6. Hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset, excluding the general firearms season and the statewide muzzle-loading season.

Last year the state's estimated 345,000 archery hunters killed 91,546 deer.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

All figures are preliminary. They are based on where the deer were checked in and not necessarily were actually killed. However, the figures do help illustrate year-to-year harvest trends.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lead fishing tackle ban nixed by federal government

Lake Erie yellow perch anglers won't have to sneak attaching an half-ounce lead bell sinker to their fishing rig.

For that matter, neither will walleye anglers have to give up their lead-head jigs or bass anglers be forced to switch to lead alternatives for their drop-shot rigs.

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rejected a petition that called for the agency to do just that. This effort is being spearheaded by a group largely consisting of environmental organizations who believe that lead-based fishing weights, lures and other tackle are killing wildlife, mostly birds, that accidentally ingest the metal.

Earlier this year the U.S. EPA also rejected the same environmentalists' claims regarding hunters' use of lead-based ammunition.

In rendering its decision, the U.S. EPA noted that the ".. petitioners have not demonstrated that the requested rule is necessary to protect against an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment..."

America's sport fishing industry is praising the government's rationale.

"It represents a solid review of the biological facts, as well as the economic and social impacts that would have resulted from such a sweeping federal action. It is a common sense decision," said Gordon Robertson, vice president of the American Sportfishing Association.

Quick to respond, the environmental petitioners say that the U.S. EPA's decision is wrong in every way. It is these group's contention that upwards of 20 million animals - chiefly birds - die annually from lead poisoning.

“The EPA’s failure to act is inexcusable, given what we know about how toxic lead is to wildlife and the extensive science linking lead poisoning in wildlife to ammunition and fishing weights,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“There are plenty of safe and available alternatives to lead products for these outdoor sports, so there’s no good reason for this poisoning to continue.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

UPDATED The new political landscape for Ohio gun owners and sportsmen

With the 2010 general election receding in the political rearview mirror, the nation’s gun owners and sportsmen can take stock on what the heck actually happened Nov. 2.

Much of it is good news, some of it not so good news. A mixed bag then, but with more delectable goodies than lumps of coal.

Certainly at the very top of the barrel is the cream that rose when current (and soon to be former) Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was handed a drubbing of political biblical proportions.

Few other political leaders have experienced such frustrated, angry opposition as had Pelosi, a West Coast liberal of the first stripe that had little regard for Second Amendment rights believers and they the same for her.

She is now a note in the history books, replaced by Ohio U.S. Rep. John Boehner who clearly enjoys a much more cordial relationship with the National Rifle Association.

Likely, too, the Republican tilt in the House will mean new committee chairs, very possibly filled by officials who are viewed more favorably by gun owners and vice-versa.

And add U.S. Senator-elect Rob Portman to the plus side of the pro-hunting, pro-gun, pro-sportsmen ledger. He will replace retiring U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich, who never did garner much enthusiasm from gun owners or their Washington-based lobbying wingmen.

Still, Portman has a long reach ahead of him if he’s ever to match Voinovich’s determined drive to protect the Great Lakes in general and Lake Erie in particular.

Across the country gun- and sportsmen-related ballot issues also proved the yin and yang of fickle voters.

In North Dakota, voters rejected by a large margin an attempt to ban high-fence big-game hunting operations. And pro-hunting proposals were passed in places as diverse as Tennessee, South Carolina and Arkansas while one Kansas ballot issue ensuring the right to own firearms passed.

However, a referendum that would protect Arizona wildlife management from the meddling of anti-hunters through the initiative petition route was defeated.

On the home front here in Ohio, the snapshot is not so clear.

Even with the backing of both the National Rifle Association and the Buckeye Firearms Association, neither incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland nor incumbent Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray could overcome the Republican fire storm. Each of these devoted pro-Second Amendment officials crashed and burned Tuesday, set afire by angry voters holding their lit torches as they stormed the polls on Tuesday.

Rising from the ashes is the new Republican phoenix of John Kasich as governor-elect and Mike DeWine as Ohio Attorney General-elect. While neither of these two now successful candidates had the same level of sportsmen support as did Strickland and Cordray (or Portman, for that matter), at least one former Ohio Division of Wildlife official says Ohio sportsmen should cut the two men some slack.

Mike Budzik was chief under then-governor Bob Taft and is himself a dyed-in-the-wool Republican of the first order.

Budzik swears on a stack of hunting law digests that both Kasich and DeWine have been doing their homework and legwork in an attempt to create detente with Ohio’s gun owners and sportsmen.

“DeWine even took a concealed carry class and got his permit and he’s been to the state’s trappers annual meeting,” Budzik said in a Wednesday aftermath election telephone interview.

What Ohio’s hunters and anglers can expect when Kasich takes over in January is more than just a shuffling of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ deck chairs.

Anticipate sweeping reform, perhaps in the guise of an extensive make-over that very well could include a blessing from the new-GOP-controlled Ohio House and existing GOP-controlled Ohio Senate.

Perhaps as well, Budzik says, the Wildlife Division will be granted a divorce from the Natural Resources Department and be wedded into a more independent fish and game commission instead.

Along with that will almost certainly materialize a fusion of various state agencies with perhaps the Natural Resources Department merging with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Some state representatives have long salivated over just such a prospect, their fingers crossed that they’d have the opportunity to make their political dreams come true.

Of course, for some, the new political climate has thoroughly chilled; maybe even to the point of an Ice-Age epoch. Rest assured, however, that what freezes also thaws, and two years from now what looked new and shiny in 2010 may very well have lost its luster.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, November 1, 2010

UPDATED Ted Nugent not legally welcomed to shoot an Ohio big buck - or any other deer

If high-energy Rock-’N-Roll star Ted Nugent wanted to jam in Ohio he’d find no opposition.

However, if the pro-Second Amendment activist and vocal sportsman advocate wants to hunt white-tailed deer here he’d be in a pickle, says officials with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

That is because earlier this summer the Motor City Madman entered no-contest pleas in California for hunting deer near a bait-feed station and not having a properly signed deer tag. While baiting for deer is legal in Ohio it is not in California.

Besides paying a fine of $1,750, the 61-year-old Nugent -a member of the National Rifle Association’s board of directors - also cannot hunt deer in California until June 2012.

And as such, Nugent is prohibited from hunting deer in Ohio until then as well. The reason being that both Ohio and California are part of a 35-state so-called Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.

Under this multi-state program a fish and game law violator found guilty in a compact member state is prohibited from exercising the same privileges in any of the other compact states during the assigned suspension period.

This issue takes on added significance because last month Nugent hunted ring-necked pheasants in South Dakota, also a compact state member. What is being asked now is whether Nugent violated South Dakota law by hunting pheasants for a deer-hunting-related violation in California.

In Ohio, it’s not much of a question, says Ken Fitz, Ohio Division of Wildlife law enforcement program administrator as well as the vice president of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.

“He would lose his deer hunting privileges in Ohio but that is all,” Fitz said.
“We added a lot of flexibility when we wrote the administrative code dealing with the interstate wildlife violator compact, and our laws are written so that we can agree with just about any entry from any state in the compact.”

Fitz said that each compact member state can apply its own set of rules to determine eligibility for buying a hunting or fishing license.

“For example, we can enter a violation for negligent hunting but some states in the compact don’t do that,” Fitz said. “This is why we tell convicted violators that they are the ones required to check to see if they can legally hunt elsewhere.”

Ohio has been in the compact member since January 1, 2008. In that time the Wildlife Division has made 318 what are called “entries,” or people who saw their hunting, fishing or both privileges suspended in Ohio, Fitz said.

Fitz said also that the agency has reviewed the suspension of around 13,500 convicted fish and game law violators from other states as to whether they would be allowed to hunt or fish in Ohio.

“We agreed to all of them expect for maybe three; and one of those was for driving an ATV through a stream,” Fitz said.

Even if a person lost his elk-hunting privileges in a Western state where such hunting is allowed, Ohio still would suspend that individuals deer-hunting privileges in this state, Fitz said as well.

“From an enforcement perspective it is a great tool. Often one of the first questions I get when I issue a summons is whether or not the person can still hunt or fish, including out of state. That’s a big concern for people,” Fitz said.

Also, under the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s new license-issuing system that will jell statewide next year, the agency will be able to flag hunters or anglers who have been convicted of wildlife.

The process then can either block them from purchasing licenses or monitor their license-buying/game-check activities, says Korey Brown , the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s point man on the new system.

“This is an example of how (Wild Ohio Customer Relations Management System, or WOCRMS) will deliver behind-the-scenes operational efficiencies that will benefit all law-abiding hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts,” Brown said.

As for Nugent, a Blog posting today on the Field and Stream’s online magazine site and also with "West Virginia Outdoors," indicates that he believes his California experience was a “witch hunt.”

Nugent further is quoted in the blogs that he intends to explore the possibility that California wildlife officials had it out for him and that he also wants to find out if there is abuse of power within that state’s fish and game department.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn