Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ohio's Wildlife Division decides what deer hunters will know and when they'll know it

Oh, this is all so deliciously arrogant of a state government bureaucracy bent on manipulating what information it believes the public is capable of understanding.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife administration has begun prepping the media and the state’s sportsmen on the new way the agency will be providing data for the up-coming deer and turkey kill statistics.
In short, the watered-down material will pretty much be delivered on a need-to-know basis, largely curtailing the use of year-to-year comparisons.
By declaring that it will “… no longer include harvest comparisons in news releases or in the weekly harvest reports” the Wildlife Division’s leadership has determined that it – and it alone – knows what data, statistics and information Ohio’s deer and turkey hunters are best capable of understanding.
“Traditionally, harvest numbers have been released in comparison to the past year’s harvest, or by ranking county harvests. Neither of these comparisons has relevance or biological significance when considering wildlife management goals. While on the surface this may seem harmless, it has resulted in significant confusion and a lack of understanding among hunters and other interested parties,” said the Wildlife Division’s acting communication’s chief John  Windau.
Windau made the statement in an electronic press release sent September 28 to members of the media.
The stuff that exists between the lines of the Wildlife Division’s new deer/turkey kill information distribution policy points with ever-so-sharp precision how Ohio’s sportsmen are ill-prepared and somehow incapable of understanding  statistics and data without the information first being filtered by the Wildlife Division.
To claim that by comparing one year’s or one week’s county-by-county deer or turkey kill numbers against another year’s  or week’s “…raw data without incorporating and factoring this other information leads to false conclusions, assumptions, and confusion” is a deliberately armed torpedo aimed squarely at the very core of openness in government.
Thus and consequently, the Wildlife Division’s leadership patronizingly believes that Ohio’s deer and turkey hunters need to be spoon fed pre-digested numbers in order for the information to be relevant, the agency condescendingly huffs and puffs.
What we are seeing here, of course, is a division, a department, and an administration that genuinely - and perhaps purposefully - confuses opaqueness for transparency.
No less suspect is how the Wildlife Division’s big guns are attempting to deflect criticism by basically noting that those who oppose the agency’s efforts at manipulating deer and turkey kill data are, shall we say, unpatriotic.
In a separate email exchange with a number of the state’s outdoor writers, Windau said “What is important is how populations are managed, the importance of hunting for conservation, and the health and quality of Ohio's deer herd.
“The fact is that Ohio has an exceptional deer herd because of the management practices, and that is a story that seems to get forgotten by the media.”
If laying a guilt trip on the media is what the Wildlife Division’s leadership is seeking it is doubtful that many of Ohio’s outdoor media members will bum a ride.
The Wildlife Division does say in its electronic missive that, yes, if a person really, really does want to compare one subset of deer or turkey kill numbers against another subset, a way exists to uproot such information.
“For those who still wish to make these comparisons, the data is still available from past news releases, the annual deer harvest summaries (publication 304) (actually publication 5304), and from the past year’s harvest updates, all available at wildohio.gov.,” the agency’s electronic notice says.
However, this will require a sportsman or a member of the media to hunt and peck his or her way through the labyrinth and sometimes Byzantine Wildlife Division electronic file cabinet; but without the assistance of the librarian, of course.
Ultimately what we are encountering here is an increasingly belligerent Wildlife Division leadership crowing that it knows what’s best not only for Ohio’s deer herd and turkey flock but also Ohio’s deer and turkey hunters.
Simultaneously the Wildlife Division’s brass has launched an offensive diversionary tactic directed at its critics by attempting to make these cynics believe they are in some fashion culpable in fostering an uncharitable attitude regarding the agency.
In the end we are witnessing a once-respected state agency moving from a policy of politely asking “How may I help you?” to one that now sneeringly responds “Go away; I’m busy. Look it up yourself.”
It’s all so very sad, really.
By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who  covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 125 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.


  1. Thanks, Jeff, for this story and making DOW's slow, continuous move to non-transparency, transparent. Sadly, this is not new for the division, just the latest in a pattern of the same. Unfortunately, other columnists who become all "moon-eyed" when in the presence of DOW personnel not only drink the Kool-Aid, they belittle outdoorsmen as uninformed and incapable of understanding wildlife management. If we are uninformed it is because that is the way DOW wants it. DOW has told us now for years that counties were over the "target" number of deer. By their own admission, DOW was basing this on data collected in 2000. I wrote to the state deer biologist pleading for him to "educate" me. What are the "target" numbers? What are the goals? What are the harvest numbers needed to achieve these goals? I got no reply. Top secret stuff, you know. Most importantly, if no one knows what our goals are, then no one knows when we are not successful. Nice gig if you can get it.

  2. If I'm not mistaken, you can pick up your phone, call a district office, and get numbers for just about any time period from the current day, back to the 70's. Seems relatively transparent to me. If you need to be spoon fed, then I suppose the arduous task of a phone call would seem non-transparent. Though, to some of us, this seems like a non-story.

  3. I guess I don't see the problem with DOW providing only the current season's harvest numbers. Quite frankly, most deer hunters and sportsmen won't look past comparison numbers in order to frame opinions and grill the Division over mis-management based on their small or large property. Heck, there are lots of hunters who believe a significant source of funding for the Division is the general revenue fund (a little off, wouldn't you say!). Maybe Windau's words could have been better chosen, but I don't take offense to them because the statement is true.

    While I might like Kool-Aid (as I have kids), I don't get moon-eyed in the presence of DOW personnel. I've had numerous constructive conversations with Tonk and DOW brass, and I feel we both benefited from the time. I am an educated sportsman, and I take pride in it.

    All I can say is sportsmen and women need to come to grips with something called "adaptive management" before framing deer population opinions on a couple numbers. Variables affecting populations change annually, and DOW is forced to make critical decisions based on what they learned from previous years AND they must consider current conditions (among other things). Simply saying there was a decline over the past two years doesn't automatically indicate a problem.

    And Jeff, do some journalism and collect the data and present whatever opinion you have; don't rely on the Division to "spoon feed" you the comparison data so you can continue working with your feet on the coffee table! You complain about complacency in state government, yet you get awful comfortable spewing statistics to get knee-jerk sportsmen riled up. Choose a side of your mouth from which to speak and earn your keep.

  4. Seems like comments are being suppressed. I tried to post my views twice yesterday to no avail. I wonder if it had anything to do with them being different than yours? So much for transparency.

  5. Just wondering who approves or disapproves of the comments? Doesn't seem too transparent when the negative ones are suppressed.

  6. Jeff is nothing but a tool. He takes up the cause of a disgruntled person and then writes negative stories trying to ruin good folks names. He is not a good journalist or blogger. Jeff has been part of the problem with his half way reporting, even when he has evidence that his story is inaccurate. The positive part is that I live in a county with many sportsmen and none of them read or believe his articles or posts, for those that have even heard of him. His blog is read more for entertainment than for factual or credibility. The entertainment part is for the lack of facts, but lots of his opinions or opinions of the disgruntled individual that he seeks comments from the most. He is nothing more than a joke and most folks realize it.