Ohio’s sportsmen are being snookered even as their dollars are being plucked, possibly going into the wallets of the oil and gas drilling industry.
All thanks to the cozy relationship between the Kasich Administration, the Republican-controlled State Senate and the fossil fuel extraction industry.
House Bill 133 would allow for the leasing of state lands for oil and gas exploration and drilling. This proposal is now before the State Senate.
To do so, the bill establishes a new oil and gas leasing commission and requires state lands be classified into four categories, conservation leaders say.
“H.B. 133’s language elevates oil and gas interests above the primary purpose for which wildlife lands are kept in the first place - wildlife conservation,” said Jeremy Rine, associate director of state services for the Columbus-based U.S. Sportsmens Alliance.
Language added to the bill in the House would require state agencies to take steps to reclassify lands to make it easier for the commission to lease them for oil and gas drilling.
“The only way for the Wildlife Division to reclassify its land would be to refuse to take sportsmen’s dollars returned to the state through the federal Pittman-Robertson Act.” Rine said also.
“These funds are derived from hunting and fishing license dollars and excise taxes paid by sportsmen that are returned to the states each year.”
Such funds are critically important to the Division of Wildlife in order to manage state game lands, adds Rob Sexton, the Alliance’s vice president.
“Despite repeated assurances that the proposal would be fixed to protect sportsmen’s interests, the bill still contains language that would take away the Division of Wildlife’s authority to manage state hunting lands,” Sexton says.
In effect, says Sexton, Ohio’s sportsmen have been given “a raw deal” by the State Senate.
“We have a new crew to work with and they reneged on the commitments they made to us,” Sexton said.
“Certainly if the federal government sees any drilling that is in contradiction to the land it actually owns we are at risk of a diversion that will cost us money; possibly a LOT of money.”
Thus, says Sexton and Rine, sportsmen’s back are up against the wall.
Not any better is that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Kasich-appointed leaders are mum on the proposal.
“The Wildlife Division must retain the ultimate authority over these lands. That will enable the agency to ensure that leasing takes place only where it is compatible only with the context of the primary reason these lands were purchased in the first place.”
To find your state senator’s phone number and other contact information, use the USSA Legislative Action Center at www.ussportsmen.org/lac.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn