Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wildlife Division flexes it muscles on research stations' move

A very long time ago when Ohio was covered by a shallow sea and now-extinct fishes swam there I was employed as a machine designer.

Back then those of us who were in the engineering trenches had an axiom for work orders that came from above and which made no sense. It went: “Enough research tends to support one’s conclusions.”

The meaning of which, of course, is that bosses all too frequently come up with  projects they first conceive of and only then seek the data needed to bolster their predetermined denouements. Sort of what you see in a daily Dilbert comic strip and its Pointy-Haired Boss.

It’s not really much different today with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.

The agency is presently hammering a round peg into the square hole by expending energy, sportsmen’s dollars and employee time in carrying out a plan to consolidate the agency’s three wildlife research stations into a single one-size-fits-all home.

These stations include the Waterloo unit in Athens and which is devoted to deer, turkeys, forest game like squirrels and fur-bearers; the Crane Creek unit near Port Clinton and which is focused on waterfowl; and another unit located somewhere near a corn field north of Columbus and dedicated to small-game species like rabbits and pheasant.

This now-in-progress consolidation is something of a headwater rivulet for the much larger watershed now being drained by the Kasich Administration. Kasich and his staff are currently working to dismantle the Natural Resources Department and thereby make it a bond servant to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

The spear point behind the research units’ forced coalesce is Dave Scott, the Wildlife Division’s wildlife administer whose flag is cemented at the agency’s Columbus headquarters.

Scott has at least 11 years under his Wildlife Division belt, first as a wildlife scientist and of late as the agency’s chief wildlife administrator.

He claims that the decision to merge the three units “didn’t come out of left field.”

Perhaps not but this decision does dribble through the infield like some bad bunt.

For his part Scott argues that by synthesizing the three now separated and diverse units into one chamber the agency - and sportsmen - would be better served.

Among Scott’s talking points (with my counter thoughts) are: Reduced overhead costs with just one facility (maybe but we don’t know until and unless there is an actual fiscal study that says so); fewer supervisors (why, are the ones now doing a poor job or are the worker bees goofing off?); smaller clerical staff (yeah, probably); bring the employees’ skills together with a team approach to solving problems (What, doesn’t anyone know about faxes let alone the telephone much less emails, Facebook, Twitter, Webiners and Skype?), opportunity to enhance their own professional opportunities and develop a career ladder (Are the out-lying units so detached that their staffs don’t know when a job at the Columbus headquarters comes open?)

To argue that while the research units current locations may have made sense in the 1950s they don’t now is another invalidated Wildlife Division tenant.

For example, the Wildlife Division contends that waterfowl management activities today includes work performed elsewhere in the state besides just those involving the swamps of northwest Ohio.

However, my 2011-2012 Ohio waterfowling hunting regulation pamphlet indicates that the marsh area of western Ohio has enough ducks nesting there and migrating through that it can use its own season. Can’t say that for the any other regional enclave. Ducks in huge numbers love the Lake Erie marshes more than anywhere else in state. Always has and always will.

I also hate to break the news to the agency’s Columbus-based bureaucrats but the last time I checked a whole lot more deer were still being killed in Coshocton County than in Champaign County.

And unless someone switched these counties around my DeLorme map book continues to show Coshocton is in southeast Ohio and Champaign hasn’t moved out of northwest Ohio.

So, yes, while we have more deer than ever before throughout the state the species’ ground-zero remains a noteworthy fixture of southeast Ohio. Always has and always will. That is why it is logical to keep the Waterloo unit glued to Athens.

Then there is the matter of money. To lease a building from the U.S. Forest Service near Delaware Reservoir the Wildlife Division may have to pay a few thousand dollars a month for an indeterminate length of time

And when the agency finally does get around to finding property, have a new building designed, get approval from the state and actually construct an edifice the Wildlife Division could spend between $1 million and $1.5 million of sportsmen’s dollars, Scott says.

That could be a conservative estimate, of course.

The Wildlife Division through Scott is equally quick to say it believes such an expenditure would save money in the long run. Perhaps, but without any studies being done to compare relocation and building costs verses the rehabilitation of existing structures there simply is no way to confirm as certain the agency's theory.

Fact is too this matter really has never been properly vetted before sportsmen in any true public setting. Which, again, is typical of an agency that too often remains a prisoner of the good-old-boys mentality. It shouldn’t, of course, since it is the state’s hunters, trappers and anglers who’ll ultimately pay the bills.

Maybe more than anything else, however, it comes down to a matter of centralization; long an artifact of government. All government.

Still, direct hands-on control is not in and of itself always either the most cost-effective way of doing business or the most efficient mechanism of resource utilization.

I mean, after all, I haven’t heard that Wildlife Division assistant chief David Lane is having difficulties administrating the agency’s five far-flung district outposts from his Columbus office. Do we need to send these district headquarters hurtling closer to the agency’s event horizon as well?

Lastly there is the question of employees being uprooted from their established homes and taking a Trail of Tears - if you will - to the blessed wonders and awe of central Ohio.

On this score the Wildlife Division says it has pow-wowed with the possible impacted employees. The agency has said these researchers can A) make the move, B) Accept a transfer into another position at a district office if such a job opens up, or C) There’s always the door, just don’t let it hit you on the way out.

Another employee relationship point that Scott makes is that in some cases the spouses of the researchers may actually make more money than does the agency scientist. I’m really not sure what that means except perhaps the Wildlife Division believes that if a male employee who can’t make the switch might be better off becoming a stay-at-home dad.

Scott says in conclusion that since the current model of stand-alone research stations goes back to the 1950s it just doesn’t work on all cylinders anymore.

But maybe - just maybe - that’s because the Wildlife Division no longer wants it to work. After all, enough research does tend to support one’s conclusions.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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