Monday, April 11, 2011

Newest Wildlife Council member speaks out

A self-described Blue Dog Democrat, Paul P. Mechling II has the ear of Red Right Republican Gov. John Kasich.

That is with the help and prodding of fellow sportsmen. Among them being now-retired Ohio Division of Wildlife chief Mike Budzik who worked behind the scenes to help get Mechling appointed to the Wildlife Council.

As a result, Mechling - a veterinarian, maple syrup maker and a tree farmer from Ashtabula County’s Pierpont Township - is one of two new members appointed to the bipartisan Ohio Wildlife Council.

He and Karen Stewart-Linkhart of Xenia were sworn in just two hours before they began their volunteer duties April 6. Each is a registered Democrat and each replaced a fellow Democrat in order to preserve the Council’s state-mandated parity in respective political leanings. They will serve four-year terms and could be reappointed.

But don’t expect Mechling to discuss politics while serving. He much rather address issues of concern to all sportsmen regardless of their political labels, Mechling said in a telephone interview on Sunday.

“Politics is way beyond me,” Mechling said. “I try to stay out of politics, and I see this job as being non-political.”

Yet politics does run in the family. His father once served as a state representative from the southern Ohio environs of Perry, Hocking and Muskingum counties.

While politics may not be on Mechling’s back burner, sound wildlife management and protecting sportsmen’s rights are front and center.

Mechling is a past state president and chairman of the Ohio chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. He was awarded the group’s “Outstanding Sportsman” award in 1994 and has also earned accolades for his land stewardship activities.

Further, Mechling serves in a volunteer capacity with the Ashtabula Soil and Water Conservation District, the Ohio Tree Farm Committee, and the Ashtabula Scenic River Advisory Council.

He is a member of the more liberal Ohio Farmers Union rather than the more conservative Ohio Farm Bureau.

Besides maintaining two veterinary businesses, Mechling and his wife, Joanne, operate a 236-acre tree farm less than one mile from Pennsylvania where they have planted more than 100,000 trees. Including 4,200 seedling just this past weekend, Mechling said.

Mechling and the rest of his family also operate a 325-acre family farm in southern Ohio’s Thornville area.

As for what he’d like to do as a Wildlife Council member, Mechling says he wouldn’t mind drawing more attention to the uniqueness of Northeast Ohio.

Part of the problem with the Wildlife Division, Mechling says, is that the closer one gets to the center of the agency’s universe in Columbus the further away the agency’s attention is on Northeast Ohio.

That is true, too, as the Wildlife Division establishes rules regulating such subjects as spring turkey hunting, Mechling says.

In this regard, Mechling believes that the season should be extended in the north to better mesh with the reality that turkey activity here is heavily influenced by different climatic conditions.

“We get more snow than anywhere else in Ohio, including Chardon,” Mechling said. “We’ve gotten 191 inches of snow this year. I still have snow on the ground in piles.”

While Mechling does not foresee the agency moving the spring turkey season clock forward he would like to see some additional time added to the back end for Northeast Ohio.

Even so, Mechling says he’s largely comfortable with the Wildlife Division’s professionalism as it stands at the present.

“I believe that Wildlife has good communication skills, it’s well respected by sportsmen and it does good science,” Mechling said.

Though not an especially devoted angler, Mechling does like to reach for a fishing pole every now and then and fish some of his farm ponds. He is often joined by his grandchildren.

He’ll also do an occasional Lake Erie charter out of Ashtabula County.
When it comes to outdoor pursuits, however, Mechling likes to hunt turkeys, waterfowl, grouse, woodcock and deer.

But don’t expect Mechling to buy into the theory that hunters are killing the living daylights out of Ashtabula County’s deer herd.

“We have way too many deer,” Mechling said. “We can’t keep up with them and they love to eat my red oak tree (seedlings). There may be an isolated spot or two where the deer herd has been hit but not the county as a whole.”

And as a tree farmer Mechling doesn’t have a whole lot of love for either rabbits or squirrels; a species that favors the plastic tubing that is used to transport maple tree sap from a tap to a collection point.

Maple syrup production is important to the Mechling family. For the just concluded syrup-making season the family produced 920 gallons of the sweet-tasting elixir.

“I try to get my squirrel hunters in the woods as much as possible,” Mechling said.
Mechling said also that he does not intend to interfere with the process of selecting a new chief of the Wildlife Division. This effort includes on-going interviewing efforts.

Which is not to say that he doesn’t check off high marks for the agency’s current acting chief, Vicki Mountz.

“She’s been very helpful and she’s a good gal,” Mechling said.

Similarly, Mechling says he has no intention of becoming embroiled in the so-called “Brown County Five” issue where five current and retired Wildlife Division officials remain under a cloud of legal wrangling.

“That hasn’t even been discussed,” Mechling said.

Mostly, Mechling says, he wants to serve the needs of wildlife, sportsmen and the agency as best as he can.

“We must use good science to protect the resource for future generations,” Mechling said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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