Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ohio Division of Wildlife chief prepares staff for possible dynamic agency changes

In a February 11 e-mail sent to all Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife personnel, agency chief Scott Zody reiterated the goal of cutting funding along with developing mechanisms to prioritize projects at every level.

If that were not enough Zody wrote also how the Wildlife Division officials will be exploring the possible – maybe even, likely – dissolution of the 13-county Wildlife District One (Central Ohio) with its parts being absorbed into the agency's remaining four management districts.

As for the first item Zody says the marching orders for the troops includes cutting “non-personnel allocations for (Fiscal Year) 2015 by 5%.”

Beyond that reduction the Wildlife Division's so-named Executive Planning Group has established what it calls next step goals.

These steps will utilize a mechanism that will prioritize projects within the Wildlife Division' five-component organizational structure: fisheries, wildlife, information and education, law enforcement, and business.

Next is encumbered by a $10-term any bureaucrat would be sure to love: “large-scale efficiencies” that if assembled properly and executed “could create substantial savings without a reduction in customer service.”

“Progress is currently being made on both fronts,” Zody says. “The Fish Management and Research Group and the Wildlife Management and Research Group have made substantial progress in the development of a project prioritization process.”

The remaining forenamed cells are expected to begin their catch-up work “soon,” Zody said also.

Downrange is the targeted goal of achieving Wildlife Division-wide compliance in time for the Fiscal 2016 Operational Plan and thus become integrated within the agency's annual Operational Plan process, Zody said.

In effect, the process appears to be a step-up and sped-up morphing of what's called comprehensive planning management, a one-time popular strategy once used by various state fish and game agencies.

“Although this approach is more involved than our traditional planning through the use of incremental budgets, it provides criteria-based rationale for why we consider some work to be higher priority or of grater urgency,” Zody said.

Left unsaid is how how such a strategy would allow the Wildlife Division to better argue its mission or projects to a questioning administration or doubting legislature.

Zody's Large-Scale Efficiencies will revolve around the nucleus of identifying areas that will provide significant cost savings.

Again, however, “without compromising customer service,” according to Zody.

Perhaps easier to say than to do the Wildlife Division will have to study at some length its current organizational structure; an activity that will require all agency personnel to don their thinking caps, says Zody.

“Throughout this exploratory process, we ask that all employees keep an open mind and remember that the goal is to provide stability to the Wildlife Fund for the future with the least amount of impact to our employees,” Zody says.

Important as well, says Zody, is for employees to remember that for now everything is under review with nothing written in stone. At least not yet and not before a thorough vetting process is commissioned that will help ensure a smooth process, Zody says.

On that point first up will be focusing on what Zody and his administration staff calls a “realignment of (wildlife) district boundaries.”

“This idea has been discussed for a number of years and is worth serious consideration,” Zody says.

Pointing out that the last time the Wildlife Division underwent a seismic realignment of agency boundaries was 51 years ago. That is when the District One flag was transferred from Chillicothe to Columbus and the agency's Sandusky district office was rendered extinct.

Up now for a rehash of district realignment is shifting District One's counties in the four existing surrounding districts.

To study this concept and determine whether its needed and if it will yield greater efficiencies at less cost, the Wildlife Division's top brass will appoint a high-level review team. This study group will include representation from the agency's fisheries management, wildlife management, law enforcement, information and education, business units, as well as the managers from two of the Wildlife Division's current five districts.

This committee will be tasked with a multipurpose goal in mind. That goal will include a cost-benefit review of the current district boundaries, provide a draft for possible realignment, and make recommendations to the higher-ups by the first week in May.

Results of this collective collaboration will be reported on at the various summer district meetings, Zody says.

“It is important to keep in mind that no decisions have been reached in this process other than to fully evaluate our options, and we go into this process with no preconceived notions,” Zody said.

However, not addressed by Zody in his electronic letter was any mention of the oft-times repeated concerns that Wildlife Division higher-ups are giving thought to likewise disbanding the present Lake Erie Law Enforcement Unit, now headquartered in Sandusky.

Currently operating at no more than one-half strength the unit typically must rely on the help of commissioned officers located elsewhere in the state. And these agents may be less familiar with both Lake Eire’s commercial fishing operations as well as the nuances associated with sport fishing along a more than 200-mile-long coastline.

Efforts to get further input from Zody on this particular point and the rest of his e-mail were unsuccessful up through the time this story was posted.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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