Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Emerald shiner drought expected to continue for Lake Erie

Lake Erie emerald shiners likely will be worth more than their weight in golden shiners again this year – and fisheries biologists lake-wide do not have a good handle as to why a dearth of them exists either.

Indeed, biologists who intently study Lake Erie’s fisheries are not even sure of the scope of the emerald shiner population decline anymore than they do the “why.”

“I’ll be up front about it; I know very little about emerald shiner biology,” said Travis Hartman, head of the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Sandusky Fisheries Research Station.

It would appear that no one else does, either; beyond a general acknowledgement that emerald shiner stocks are down lake-wide. This means that Lake Erie’s yellow perch anglers – especially those in Lake Erie’s Central Basin – are compelled to look to commercially raised golden shiners, a commodity that many fishers claim is an inferior substitute for emerald shiners.

“A New York perch fisherman will tell you the same thing,” said also Donald Einhouse, Lake Erie fisheries manager for the New York State Environmental Conservation agency.

Perhaps adding fuel to the fire is New York State’s so-called “transportation corridor.” This rule allows emerald shiners taken north of Interstate 90 (the New York Turnpike) to be used but only within that region. And while an outright prohibition on interstate exportation does not exist, Einhouse said that to do so would require meeting the requirements of any transportation corridor established by both Pennsylvania and Ohio.

And that insistence would almost surely set up a red-tape conundrum for a bait dealer who works on a slim margin of profit as it is.

Generally not well known, too, is that at one time many of the emerald shiners sold in bait stores along Ohio’s share of the Lake Erie shoreline originated from New York’s Upper Niagara River and Buffalo Harbor.

 In further explanation as to the situation, New York’s transportation corridor application came about when the fish virus VHS(viral hemorrhagic septicemia) was first detected in Lake Erie more than 10 years ago. The concern centered on how transporting Lake Erie baitfish posed a potential threat to fish stocks beyond the basin. The federal government lifted its edict around 2007; this, following the implementation of state-regulated transportation corridors.

However, the downturn in the status of Lake Erie’s emerald shiner population is only aggravating the exportation-transportation situation.

“Unfortunately we have to talk in generalities because we don’t index emerald shiners,” Hartman said. “(Emerald shiners) sort of fall through the cracks.”

Hartman did say that during some fish survey work does suggest that emerald shiner populations are not what they were a few years ago. Among the studies are sampling the stomachs of Lake Erie predator fish. Among them are yellow perch, walleye and smallmouth bass.

Results of these efforts point to these named predatory fish species eating fewer emerald shiners. Instead, Hartman says, Lake Erie’s upper tier predators are feeding on something other emerald shiners.

“They are adjusting and adapting,” Hartman said.

Consequently, Hartman says he’s not particularly worried; not when a walleye or a yellow perch has an abundance of other prey available to it for sustenance.

“I’d be more concerned if we saw a problem with the predator base but we are not noticing it at a level where emerald shiners are on the way out,” Hartman said. “It’s good that Lake Erie has other prey for fish like walleye and perch to feed on.”

Besides, Hartman said, even trying to get a handle on Lake Erie’s emerald shiners would be no small task. The species prefers open water and typically suspend in the water column.

“That makes emerald shiners tough to assess,” Hartman said.

Tough, yes, agrees Einhouse, who explained that his state’s take is the same as that of Ohio’s; expanding how the emerald shiner population’s downturn has extended for at least “two years.”

“So far this year it has not been difficult for people to collect emerald shiners, but that can change very quickly,” Einhouse said as well.

Yet it’s also been a considerable challenge for Pennsylvania bait stores to stock the popular yellow perch bait, says Darl Black, a Pennsylvania outdoors writer who writes an exhaustive weekly fishing report for that state’s northwest region. Featured in Black’s report are extensive outtakes gleaned from Erie-area bait dealers and anglers.

“Barely (an emerald shiner) is showing up in shallow waters in Pennsylvania or in Presque Isle Bay; bait shops have none,” Black said.

What is needed then is for some favorable environmental factor to kick in and reboot Lake Erie’s emerald shiner stocks – whatever those factors may be, Hartman says as well.

Besides, it’s not like the emerald shiner population has crashed; not enough that some licensed bait dealers cannot find the minnows at all, Hartman said.

“Clearly there are people who are finding them,” Hartman said. “(And) all it would take is one good hatch for the emerald shiner population to rebound.”

Until then, Lake Erie yellow perch anglers will need to buy golden shiners or net their own emeralds now and preserve them for use later in the fishing season.

Just remember, Hartman says, that Ohio law stipulates that if you keep 500 or more live emerald shiners in some fashion you must have an annual $40bait dealer’s license. That license is likewise required of charter captains if they separately charge their clients for the baitfish, Hartman said.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Ohio Natural Resources still interested in at least a portion of AEP Recreation lands

Understanding that it can’t buy the entire AEP coal lands pie the Ohio Division of Wildlife would at least like to obtain a sizable slice.

However, the agency is strapped enough for cash that purchasing even a few crumbs of the 60,000-acre popular outdoors recreational territory in southeast Ohio may prove daunting.

Even so, the Wildlife Division still intends to pursue buying a portion of the property from the private coal-mining/electrical power generating American Electric Power (AEP) company.

AEP has stated it wants to sell off the area in large parcels. This has generated heat of its own, along with heartburn for Wildlife Division officials.

The acreage consists of a huge chuck on land, expanding over several southeast Ohio counties and is comprised of several designated wildlife areas.  These properties are enormously popular with outdoors enthusiasts of all stripes; from campers to anglers to hunters to birders to hikers.

An effort in January to work out a deal for buying several thousand acres in a “core” section of the area failed to produce an agreement, says Ray Petering, chief of the Wildlife Division.

“We’re trying to find federal dollars which seems to have helped in AEP not selling off everything so quickly,” Petering said recently to a group of outdoors writers.

Petering also said that whatever the agency can pick up it won’t be a paltry size piece of real estate, either. Rather, any purchase would run in “several thousand acres” and not several hundred, Petering says.

“We’ve told AEP that we’re in for something,” Petering said. “The door and lines of communication are still open.”

Petering said too that his agency is most interested in acquiring land found within a core segment of the current boundaries. And any buy should include as much water-associated property as possible along with good habitat or at least property that could be developed for good wildlife habitat, Petering says.

Petering said too that any deal would almost certainly require as many as four years to complete.

“We should get something, which is better than nothing,” Petering said.

Even so, that something will require money. And given that an initial assessment paints AEP property as costing $2,000 per acre, any land-buying agreement would require a huge cash outlay.

Complicating any prospective purchase is that acreage where so-called “shallow coal” exists would be valued even higher. It is here where mineral – coal – extraction is easiest; thus, less expensive to mine and consequently more desirable to any likely commercial suitor, Petering says.

This is why the Wildlife Division is looking to partner with major national land-conservation groups and others in providing financial assistance.

And it is here where the subject of potential resident hunting and fishing license fee increases enters the picture. With fewer available dollars now hanging out in the Wildlife Fund there exists a lessened financial opportunity for the Wildlife Division to salvage what it can of the AEP property, Petering acknowledged.

“We will do what we can with what we have,” Petering said.

As for the parent Ohio Department of Natural Resources, that entity stands behind the Wildlife Division in securing AEP property while still opposing license fee increases for Ohio resident hunters and anglers.

“We do support Wildlife with regards to AEP,” said Gary Obermiller, a Natural Resources Department assistant director. “We wanted to buy the entire 60,000 acres but AEP didn’t want to go with that.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Friday, May 12, 2017

New Northeast Ohio spring turkey zone sees okay first week kill

By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
This is going to be an easy and quick one.

With Ohio’s 88 counties divided into two spring wild turkey-hunting season zones the five extreme Northeast Ohio counties got tucked away into a separate unit. This, because they are the state’s Snow Belt counties which often are way behind weather-wise than are their 83 sibling counties.

Unfortunately the first week for these counties was marked by cold, wind and lots of rain. Lots and lots of rain at times. Never-the-less birds were killed. Thus, here are the first week numbers for the NE turkey zone county harvests.

NE Zone County

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ohio Natural Resources official blasts license fee increase proponents

Obviously nervous – even apprehensive and testy – Ohio Department of Natural Resources assistant director Gary Obermiller told a group of outdoors journalists May 6th that he “wasn’t even sure he should come.”

That uncertainty arrived while addressing attendees of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio’s annual conference, held in Summit County’s Hudson.

Obermiller’s remarks were delivered during a presentation at the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) Office in nearby Akron. They came on the heels of a recent vocal cacophony delivered by various sportsmen and conservation groups, former Wildlife Division officials and others, all of whom are requesting Departmental backing for increases to resident fishing and hunting license fees.

The Natural Resources Department all ready has stated that it backs increases in non-resident license fees, particularly for non-resident deer hunters.

However, a gap in agreement for raises for residents hunters and anglers exists between the Natural  Resources Department and at least 32 state and national sportsmen and conservation groups. And that gap is both a wide and a very deep chasm, too.

Obermiller attempted to defuse the difference though at times he seemed to stir the caldron even further; in one instance lambasting six of the Wildlife Division’s immediate past living chiefs for publically supporting resident license fee increases.

In effect, Obermiller said, the now-retired slate of former Wildlife Division chiefs lacked in championing via their joint communiqué the fee increase proposal since license sales not only stagnated during their respective watches, but declined.

“Sometimes by double digits,” Obermiller said, who then hastily added “(But) I’m not blaming them.”

Obermiller also says that a culture unique to the Wildlife Division exists and is one that has not always been helpful – an oft-times stated position in the media and by bystanders who regularly observe the agency.

Yet that culture seems to have soured, say some within the Wildlife Division who are fearful of expressing themselves publically.

“The Division of Wildlife has always operated at a distance (from the Natural Resources Department) more than any other division,” Obermiller said, adding that both the Natural Resources Department and the Wildlife Division have “always had morale problems.”

As for the nearly three dozen groups now supporting increases to resident angler and hunter license fees, Obermiller dismissed their joint assembly on the issue out of hand. He even questioned whether the various groups – including Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Columbus-based Sportsman’s Alliance and others – had polled their membership regarding resident license fee increases or whether the decision came just from the groups’ “leadership.”

“And what about the sportsmen who don’t belong to these groups; do they agree or disagree with a license fee increase?” Obermiller rhetorically asked. “I don’t know.”

When pressed that such a stand is similar to the tactic employed by various anti-Second Amendment organizations against the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun lobbying efforts, Obermiller angrily denied such an analogy.

“Any (license fee increase) should be a last resort,” Obermiller said also. “Just to say you’re operating on 2003 dollars is not enough.”

Asked, however, just how many organized groups have publically stated their support for the Natural Resources Department’s position, Obermiller said it is not the agency’s “job go out and garner support.”

Along those lines Obermiller seemed to have ignited the spark that has generated the Natural Resources Department’s main thrust against resident hunting and fishing license fee increases.

It is the Department’s position, said Obermiller, that not only did the fee increase proponents catch the agency’s off guard as to the request for the hikes but that they failed to explain in any detail exactly where the additional revenue would be spent.

Similarly Obermiller said he is unsure of exactly how many commissioned officers the Wildlife Division is lacking – including officers assigned to counties, and whether the agency even needs money for additional land acquisition.

“I don’t have a good handle on that,” Obermiller said.

To illustrate the Department’s unwavering support for the Wildlife Division, Obermiller also not only reiterated but emphasized that the Natural Resources Department has absolutely no intent nor desire to create a unified law enforcement command that would enfold the Wildlife Division’s commissioned officers with Park rangers, Forestry agents, and Watercraft officers.

“I can’t make it any clearer: ‘We are not going down that road,’” Obermiller said.

And the Department has championed the goal of the Wildlife Division to seek ownership of at least some of the AEP land in southeast Ohio – an extremely popular public hunting and fishing area owned by a private mineral extraction company who is poised to sell off thousands of acres of land.

 “We have no interest in the Wildlife Division struggling or failing,” Obermiller said. “To think otherwise is ridiculous. I can’t recall any time when Wildlife didn’t come to us that we haven’t helped.”

Besides, said Obermiller, perhaps a non-resident fee increase might prove ample in solving any fiscal problems that the Wildlife Division may be encountering now or may encounter in the short or long term.

However, the future of the Wildlife Division’s District One (Central Ohio) office does remain on the table Obermiller says.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Six former Ohio Wildlife Division chiefs nix ODNR's license fee increase opposition

Bucking the present regime in charge of Ohio, six former chiefs of the Ohio Division of Wildlife are now on record in support of modest increases to Ohio’s hunting and fishing licenses.

Not only for non-resident sportsmen either, but for resident hunters and anglers as well. This puts the six at odds with the flip-flopping Ohio Department of Natural Resources leadership which once supported such fee increases as did at one time Ohio Governor John Kasich.

In a letter dated May 2nd and sent to Kasich the six now-retired Wildlife Division chiefs collectively argued that “Operating the Division of Wildlife on a 2003 budget will not permit that to happen,” the “that” being to arrest “The declining quality of programs and service” of the Division of Wildlife.

“Put simply,” the signed document says “the current trend is slowly starving out the Ohio Division of Wildlife, which if not corrected, will result in an irretrievable loss of customers and revenue.”

The six signees and their years of service as a Wildlife Division chief under both Republican and Democrat governors are Steve Cole (1982-1983); Clayton Lakes (1985-1991): Dick Pierce (1991-1995); Mike Budzik (1995-2003); Steve Gray (2003-2007); and Dave Graham (2007-2011).

Noteworthy is that Budzik has been a long-time and early-on supporter of Kasich and has actively lobbied for the governor’s outdoors agenda before Ohio sportsmen, natural resources and conservation groups.

However, the Natural Resources Department’s leadership – after one-time saying it supported modest license fee increases for residents as well as more steep price jumps for non-residents – has backtracked on the issue as it relates to resident hunters and anglers.

Without clearly spelling out where and how savings can be made the Natural Resources Department stands opposed to raises in resident hunting and fishing license fees. It is prepared to back increases to non-resident fees, however.

Last month Natural Resources Director James Zehringer wrote a letter that stated among other things:

“Raising fees on Ohioans should be the last option not the first.  At ODNR we remain committed to finding more effective and efficient ways to manage the state’s resources. We need to make tough choices to keep costs down and responsibly manage the funds Ohioans have entrusted to us.

The challenge facing Ohio’s sportsmen and women is not just dollars and cents, but the shrinking number of their fellow citizens who hunt, fish and trap.  Increasing the cost to participate is not the solution at this time.  Instead, we must work together to find innovative ways to grow the sport and pass on our love of hunting, fishing, and trapping to the next generation.
To which the six former Wildlife Division chiefs responded in their letter by saying “While the (Ohio) General Assembly should always be careful not to overcharge its users, the price of a license is not the (N)umber (O)ne reason people give up hunting, fishing or trapping.”
he group of six then goes on the state that lack of access to a wide array of outdoors venues is paramount to why people leave the hunting, fishing and trapping fold. And that can only be addressed through a steady cash stream so that Ohio can obtain “...better managed public land, more educational programming to help people locate places to hunt and fish and trap, more boating access, and better stocked waterways.”

Bolstering the six former Wildlife Division chiefs is the Ohio-based Sportsmen’s Alliance which has pounded out a steady drumbeat for modest hunting and fishing license fee increases for residents and a more equitable license fee system for non-residents, particularly non-resident deer hunters.

In an attached electronic lead letter to the signed declaration by the six former Wildlife Division chiefs, Sportsmen’s Alliance president and CEO Evan Heusinkveld said:

“There continues to be a growing cacophony of support for a fee increase, including the former chiefs, the Ohio Wildlife Council, and Ohio’s sportsmen and conservationists who actually pay to use the resource. This support should be a clear signal to members of the senate that the time has come to update resident and non-resident license fees.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

First week of Ohio's spring turkey season bags more than 10,000 birds

Ohio’s turkey hunters are finding that during the spring season’s second week the ground is soggy, the air is wet and the creeks are running too full to jump over.

However, they sure did bust up the flocks during the spring season’s first week. Or at least those hunters participating in Ohio’s newly designated South Zone; which is comprised of 83 of the state’s 88 counties.

Excluded are the five counties which comprise the Northeast Ohio Zone: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Trumbull counties. These counties saw their spring turkey season door swing open this past Monday, May 1st.

For the South Zone, hunters logged a preliminary 10,280 wild turkeys killed during the first week of the wild turkey hunting season, April 24th through 30th. By comparison, in 2016 hunters checked 8,629 wild turkeys statewide – that’s for all 88 counties - during the first week of the season.

High numbers were anticipated as an unusually strong cicada emergence occurred last spring across much 0- but not all – of Ohio during spring, 2016. Such emergences typically mean access to a high-protein diet for both adult and juvenile turkeys. This condition then translates into both good poult production and strong survivability of young birds.

Ohio’s spring wild turkey season is divided into two zones: The South Zone, which is open from Monday, April 24th to Sunday, May 21st, and the Northeast Zone, which opened Monday, May 1st and runs to to Sunday, May 28th.

Hunting hours are a little convoluted, though not so much that with a little care a hunter is not breaking any of the spring turkey-hunting season’s rules.

In the South Zone, legal shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise until noon from April 24th-May 7th and 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset from May 8th to May 21st.

Hunting hours in the Northeast Zone are 30 minutes before sunrise until noon from May 1-14 and 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset from May 15-28.

Here is the preliminary list of wild turkeys checked by hunters in the South Zone during the first week of the spring turkey hunting season. The first number following the county’s name shows the turkeys killed for 2017, and the respective comparable 2016 numbers are in parentheses. Asterisks designates each one of the five Northeast Zone counties, which were open during the first week of the spring wild turkey season in 2016, but did not open until this past Monday, May 1st:

Adams: 280 (220); Allen: 36 (37); Ashland: 135 (88); Ashtabula: * (261); Athens: 217 (168); Auglaize: 30 (22); Belmont: 273 (255); Brown: 218 (167); Butler: 100 (93); Carroll: 237 (169); Champaign: 45 (46); Clark: 9 (8); Clermont: 220 (207); Clinton: 27 (19); Columbiana: 173 (179); Coshocton: 348 (209); Crawford: 32 (45); Cuyahoga: * (4); Darke: 14 (17); Defiance: 140 (143); Delaware: 45 (47); Erie: 31 (28); Fairfield: 69 (50); Fayette: 9 (9); Franklin: 9 (10); Fulton: 71 (54); Gallia: 271 (212); Geauga: * (125); Greene: 9 (11); Guernsey: 321 (216); Hamilton: 52 (60); Hancock: 24 (25); Hardin: 43 (49); Harrison: 298 (212); Henry: 31 (31); Highland: 220 (163); Hocking: 230 (161); Holmes: 168 (111); Huron: 87 (54); Jackson: 240 (188); Jefferson: 225 (202); Knox: 226 (144); Lake: * (21); Lawrence: 160 (146); Licking: 234 (140); Logan: 69 (57); Lorain: 89 (58); Lucas: 31 (30); Madison: 2 (5); Mahoning: 103 (104); Marion: 22 (19); Medina: 73 (70); Meigs: 309 (229); Mercer: 12 (9); Miami: 6 (9); Monroe: 311 (220); Montgomery: 9 (11); Morgan: 223 (172); Morrow: 96 (97); Muskingum: 321 (242); Noble: 253 (153); Ottawa: 1 (1); Paulding: 52 (58); Perry: 200 (121); Pickaway: 10 (13); Pike: 153 (132); Portage: 143 (95); Preble: 40 (55); Putnam: 32 (40); Richland: 168 (130); Ross: 227 (183); Sandusky: 11 (14); Scioto: 183 (129); Seneca: 90 (69); Shelby: 27 (22); Stark: 170 (120); Summit: 27 (26); Trumbull: * (204); Tuscarawas: 370 (208); Union: 27 (29); Van Wert: 11 (11); Vinton: 215 (141); Warren: 45 (55); Washington: 277 (222); Wayne: 73 (49); Williams: 131 (133); Wood: 11 (16); Wyandot: 50 (42). Total: 10,280 (8,629).
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Terrible weather didn't hurt turkey kill for new Northeast Ohio Zone spring season opener

The woods were so wet during the newly created May 1st Northeast Ohio spring wild turkey hunting season opener that even my hen decoy was complaining.

Mixed with the rain were falling temperatures and rising wind speeds. So the weather was hardly inviting for man, beast, birds - or decoys.

And yet it mattered not for more than 200 turkey hunters participating in the five-county (Northeast Ohio Zone) late spring season start: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Trumbull.

Assembled together their combined spring turkey season opener saw a preliminary total kill of 216 bearded birds. In 2016 – and when the five counties saw their opener dovetail with the rest of the state’s 83 counties – the combined tally was 201 birds.

Not unexpectedly leading the way was Ashtabula County where 97 turkeys were shot and compared to its 2016 spring season opening day kill of 85 birds.

And Ashtabula’s reported 2017 spring season opening day kill of 97 birds places it close to the pinnacle of all of the state’s other 87 counties, too. On the April 24th spring season opener for all but the five extreme Northeast Ohio counties the leaders were Coshocton County with 123 birds; Tuscarawas County with 115 birds; and Guernsey County with 108 birds.

Just behind Ashtabula County and its 97 birds were Harrison and Adams counties with 92 birds each, and Carroll County with 91 birds.

As for the other four Northeast Ohio counties, the statistics for their May 1st spring season opener (with their respective 2016 opening day figures in parentheses) were: Cuyahoga – one (two); Geauga – 46 (36); Lake – 15 (six); and Trumbull – 57 (72).

The one-week delayed start for the spring wild turkey hunting-season opener was brought about by years of lobbying by many sportsmen in Northeast Ohio. It was their argument that the state’s Snow Belt region stands apart meteorologically from the rest of Ohio. So much so that there’s a biological hiccup in when hens breed and gobblers talk that is not seen elsewhere around Ohio.

Yet Monday’s delayed opener was hardly a pleasant sit with on-off rain showers that often times produced a steady drumbeat on the fabric of my ground blind, situated in Ashtabula County. I did not hear a single bird and only three shots, each coming before 9 a.m.

In any event, the spring wild turkey hunting season for the so-named “South Zone” runs through May 21st. Hunting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise until noon through May 7th, and then one-half hour before sunrise until sunset beginning May 8th until the South Zone season ends May 21st.
For the five-county “Northeast Zone-only” the spring wild turkey-hunting season runs through May 28th. Hunting hours here are 30 minutes before sunrise until noon through May 14th and then from 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset from May 15th through the end of the Northeast Zone-only season on May 28th.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, April 24, 2017

UPDATED: Ohio's youth-only hunt and general spring season turkey opener; Awesome

If the rest of Ohio’s spring wild turkey hunting goes as well as it did during the just-concluded two-day/youth-only hunt, a lot of Thanksgiving Day roaster pans will be preparing dinner.

And it appears that adults will be pitching in to help save the lives of Butterball-brand, store-bought turkeys. These hunters enjoyed tremendous success during the general spring turkey-hunting season on Monday, April 24th.

Ohio’s two-day youth-only season ran April 22nd and 23rd. Young guns age 17 and younger shot and killed 1,895 bearded birds. That figure is up 331 birds from the 1,564 turkeys shot during the 2016 two-day/youth-only hunt.

Other youth hunt  statistics point to the notation that of Ohio’s 88 counties, only five failed to record any birds taken: Cuyahoga, Ottawa, Fayette, Madison, and Pickaway counties.

Also, of Ohio’s 88 counties, 48 of them posted increases, 27 recorded declines and the remainder posted identical – though still preliminary - 2016 season and 2017 youth-only season tallies.

The  counties which reported turkey kills of at least 50 birds each – and with their respective 2016 two-day/youth-only numbers in parentheses - were: Muskingum – 82 (33); Monroe – 71 (51); Coshocton – 63 (34); Washington – 58 (52); Harrison also 58 (39); Tuscarawas – 56 (44); Noble – 55 (also 55); and Ashtabula – 50 (44).

Today – April 24th - marks the start of Ohio’s general spring wild turkey hunting season for 83 of Ohio’s 88 counties. It concludes in these counties May 21st.

The general spring wild turkey hunting season for the extreme Northeast Ohio counties of Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula and Trumbull will run May 1st through May 28th.

In all cases of the general spring wild turkey-hunting seasons the season bag limit is two bearded birds, but only one per day. Besides a general Ohio hunting license a special spring-only turkey permit is required for each bird.

In the case of the spring general season opener on Monday, hunters killed 3,123 bearded wild turkeys. Even without the five extreme Northeast Ohio counties that figure is still 612 more birds than were shot during the 2016 spring season opener when 2,511 turkeys were killed.

Here is the list of county-by-county turkeys killed during the 2017 spring season opener April 24th. Remember that the season is still closed in Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula and Trumbull counties until May 1st.
The counties’ 2016 opening day results are in parentheses: Adams: 92 (56); Allen: 8 (11); Ashland: 41 (24); Ashtabula: * (85); Athens: 61 (42); Auglaize: 8 (8); Belmont: 81 (73); Brown: 66 (47); Butler: 36 (27); Carroll: 91 (53); Champaign: 19 (12); Clark: 4 (2); Clermont: 75 (56); Clinton: 9 (9); Columbiana: 54 (50); Coshocton: 123 (72); Crawford: 8 (15); Cuyahoga: * (2); Darke: 5 (4); Defiance: 47 (50); Delaware: 17 (11); Erie: 4 (8); Fairfield: 16 (14); Fayette: 4 (0); Franklin: 4 (3); Fulton: 19 (15); Gallia: 69 (47); Geauga: * (36); Greene: 2 (4); Guernsey: 108 (67); Hamilton: 18 (18); Hancock: 6 (5); Hardin: 14 (13); Harrison: 92 (67); Henry: 8 (8); Highland: 86 (49); Hocking: 66 (46); Holmes: 58 (40); Huron: 31 (17); Jackson: 57 (48); Jefferson: 54 (60); Knox: 85 (52); Lake: * (6); Lawrence: 45 (38); Licking: 81 (46); Logan: 27 (13); Lorain: 22 (20); Lucas: 8 (13); Madison: 1 (3); Mahoning: 32 (30); Marion: 4 (8); Medina: 19 (18); Meigs: 84 (63); Mercer: 7 (2); Miami: 4 (1); Monroe: 83 (57); Montgomery: 5 (4); Morgan: 66 (32); Morrow: 37 (30); Muskingum: 89 (67); Noble: 72 (42); Ottawa: 0 (0); Paulding: 19 (17); Perry: 48 (48); Pickaway: 4 (2); Pike: 37 (38); Portage: 38 (30); Preble: 14 (22); Putnam: 9 (8); Richland: 39 (43); Ross: 70 (53); Sandusky: 4 (4); Scioto: 53 (32); Seneca: 27 (21); Shelby: 5 (12); Stark: 43 (31); Summit: 7 (9); Trumbull: * (72); Tuscarawas: 115 (69); Union: 6 (9); Van Wert: 7 (4); Vinton: 70 (33); Warren: 16 (12); Washington: 78 (58); Wayne: 21 (18); Williams: 41 (39); Wood: 2 (0); Wyandot: 18 (8). Total: 3,123 (2,511).

By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Saturday, April 22, 2017

EXTENSIVE UPDATES/ODNR nixes resident license jumps-Ohio House hits non-residents

Reader, please note - This is a fast-breaking news story and further additions and changes are expected. Please return periodically for any updates, including a lengthy statement made today (April 25th) by Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer. The latest update was performed at 7:10 p.m., April 25th.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has pulled the plug on any increases to hunting and fishing license fees for residents.

Non-residents are a different matter as the Natural Resources Department is now seeking to clarify its clarification.

And the Ohio General Assembly's House side of things has inserted language in HB 49 that would increase the cost of a non-resident deer permit from the present $24 (same as for Ohio residents) to $250.

Meanwhile, the same proposal would boast the cost of a non-resident turkey tag - either spring or fall - from the existing $24 to $75.

 Last year the Wildlife Division issued 51,268 either-sex deer tags to non-residents and 3,205 antlerless-only deer tags to non-residents.

 Also, the Wildlife Division issued 3,975 spring turkey tags to non-residents and another 1,118 fall turkey tags to non-residents.

The budget bill license fee amendment proposal's chief sponsor is Representative Johnathan Dever, R-Madeira.

For now Deaver’s proposal meets with the Natural Resources Department’s approval.

“(The) ODNR has supported adjusted fees on non-resident participants in the past and supports the effort once again, as this change would align Ohio’s fees more closely with the non-resident fee structures of other states,” said Matt Eiselstein, the agency’s designated spokesman on the subject of any potential license fee increase to either residents or non-residents.

The Columbus-based Sportsman’s Alliance says while it appreciates the fee increase proposal for non-resident hunters it doesn’t go far enough to plugging the Wildlife Division’s emerging fiscal leaks.

(At the tag of this blog is the official position on the subject by Natural Resources Director James Zehringer.)

Even so, some critics are arguing that the Department pulled the rug out from under the Wildlife Division in general and Ray Petering in particular. That belief is focused on the chief being on the record as stating that his agency is “…doing 2017 programs on 2004 money.”

And putting the brakes on the Wildlife Division and its employees officially backing any license fee increase was what the Natural Resources Department said in a short, terse e-mail note to this writer and one other reporter. That short missive reads:


“At this time, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife does not support a license fee increase on Ohio’s hunters and anglers. While we appreciate the support of our sportsmen, we are seeking efficiencies and savings within the Department that will result in a higher level of service, without raising license fees.”


The Departmental communiqué bears the sender as being Petering but includes the notation that any further contact be directed to Natural Resources agency spokesman Matt Eiselstein.


For his part Eiselstein notes that his agency is “always seeking opportunities to better utilize our resources, and that does include understanding the value of our landholdings.”


That exploration of knowing the value of Department-owned lands and structures includes the Wildlife Division’s District One Headquarters complex in Columbus.


In a further statement to the “Ohio Outdoor News,” Eiselstein says the Natural Resources Department has had an appraisal of D-1 performed but does mention any actual goal of channeling the work of the 24-person staff there to Fountain Square.


 “(The) ODNR conducts between 30 to 50 official appraisals annually, and these figures do not include the dozens of property valuations conducted by staff each year,” Eiselstein said.


 “The position of the department is that we need to look at fiscally responsible ways to achieve our goals before we ask Ohio’s sportsmen and women to pay more for hunting and fishing opportunities,” Eiselstein said.


Those efforts have included fact-finding in regard to office space and property values, including D-1, says Eiselstein said in a second electronically sent memo on the subject.


“The appraisal is an initial step in determining the value of an asset. Any discussion at this point regarding plans for the property beyond determining and examining its value would be premature, as no course of action has been determined,” Eiselstein said.


Still, reports are suggesting that the Wildlife Division will move D-1 to Fountain Square with the expectation that it will pay the Department an annual rental fee of up to $500,000.


However, in a third round of notations the Natural Resources Department is now pulling back from its back-stepping in regards to whether to increase non-resident fishing and hunting license fees.

Eislstein noted to this writer in an April 25th electronic exchange that his statement of no fee increases was a reference to "Ohio's sportsmen and women..."

"Non-resident fees are being considered separately, and this does not have to be a both or neither scenario," Eislstein said in his latest electronic posting.

All of this twisting and turning on the increasingly complex matter follows on the heels of the April 14th “Ohio Outdoor News” story “Ohio groups push on for license hike.”

 In that article its author and publication editor Mike Moore pointed out how the Columbus-based Sportsmen’s Alliance had teamed with approximately two dozen other Ohio-related or -based sportsmen and conservation groups in backing license fee increases for hunters and anglers.

This fee jump was especially aimed at non-resident deer hunters. The ad hoc assembly pointed out that Ohio charges the least expensive non-resident deer-hunting fee package of “…any quality white-tailed deer hunting state in the country…” citing a figure of $149 while the average for such states is $393.

 In the “Ohio Outdoor News” article, Petering is quoted as illustrating the importance of periodic license fee augmentation when he referenced the 2017 and 2004 comparison with “…that’s easy for the average person to wrap their head around.”

“You’re not keeping pace with inflation let alone everything else,” Petering is quoted as saying.

 Petering further said that such fee increases are of the kind typically and often supported by those who pay the bills: Ohio’s hunters and anglers.

 “They basically said ‘we want these types of agencies to exist and we’ll pay money for it,’” Petering also said in the article, continuing, “This is in keeping with a long-term tradition and legacy here.”

 Yet - in effect - those comments by Petering need to be taken more broadly since the chief never actually said the Wildlife Division has ever pushed “for more money,” Eiselstein says too.

Consequently, Eiselstein says he doesn’t believe that Petering’s comments “or any subsequent statements indicate a reversal of our position.”

Even so, backing the idea of license fee increases – and thus supporting Petering’s former-proposal endorsement – were all six of the current members comprising the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council.

 The two other Wildlife Council members saw their terms expire at the end of March, and at the time of this writing neither person had either been reappointed nor replacements named.

 The six document signees penned a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich, Natural Resources Director James Zehringer and members of the Ohio General Assembly that buttresses their collective appeal for license fee increases.

 “We have grown increasingly concerned about the ability of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources / Division of Wildlife to fulfill its mission to the satisfaction of the citizens of Ohio,” the memorandum reads. 

“While other government agencies are able to absorb cost increases by seeking additional revenue from  the general tax payer coffers, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources / Ohio Division of Wildlife is  funded by user fees that have not been adjusted since 2003, the longest stretch in the agency’s history.”

As such, the signers said the state’s hunters and anglers are taking note of the several counties “where wildlife officers are no longer present because the agency lacks the funds to hold a cadet class to replace retiring officers.”

 Similarly, the document’s six signing members state, “Wildlife production areas are more often unmanaged prior to key hunting seasons” while “fish stocking programs have decreased over this same period.”

In concluding their declaration of support for license fee increases the six Wildlife Council members stated “For these reasons, the Ohio Wildlife Council is calling on you Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly to support these very modest increases that would be paid entirely by those who use these Resources.”

 Neither are others buying into what they believe is an attempt by the Natural Resources Department to reign in Petering’s once strong support for license fee increases of all kinds.

Sportsman’s Alliance CEO and President Evan Heisinkveld said his – and 29 other outdoors and conservation organizations “appreciate the House Finance Committee's decision to include Representative Dever's non-resident fee increase in the budget bill.”

“It is a major step in the right direction,” said Evan Heusinkveld. “However, we believe that a modest increase in resident fees is also necessary to address the funding crisis of the Division of Wildlife. Ohio's sportsmen and women are asking for this increase in their own user fees because they understand the nexus between conservation programs and hunting license fees.”

Since the need for additional funding is “abundantly clear,” Hesusinkveld also says, the turn-about only “makes the Department’s position not only confusing, given its past support, but unsatisfactory as well.”

Thus, while fiscal responsibility and efficiency are vital, “serving the paying public and quality is even more important,” Heusinkveld said as well.

 “Governor Kasich spoke of his support for a fee increase on non-residents in 2014 at a sportsmen’s reception at the Governor’s mansion while Natural Resources Department Director Zehringer testified in support of a non-resident fee increase before the legislature in 2015,” Heusinkveld said.

And efforts at being fiscally responsible and equally fiscally fair are what helped motivate Ohio Wildlife Council member/secretary Thomas A. Vorisek of Gahanna to back the fee increase concept and plant his name to the group’s declaration of support.

“Yes, I am disappointed and confused,” Vorisek said in a telephone interview about the Department-ordered 180-degree turn-about. “Is it really too much to ask that we have a wildlife officer in every county?”

 Vorisek then highlighted how one of the main thrusts of the fee increase idea was directed at the 40,000 or so non-resident deer hunters, who are enjoying a sweet bargain and who also have in many instances leased land that shuts out Ohio resident hunters.

 Asked then if he were concerned that his “disappointment” over the Natural Resources Department’s inverted stance regarding a unified license fee proposal will cost him reappointment to the Wildlife Council, Vorisek quickly responded “no.”

His appointment to the Council expires January 2018.

“I’m never concerned about the consequences of doing the right thing,” Vorisek said.

The following is the April 25th unedited statement made by Ohio Natural Resources Director James Zehringer regarding proposed license fee increases:

“Ohioans who enjoy hunting, fishing and trapping face a difficult challenge: how to manage our resources and preserve our heritage in a period of declining participation. We share a commitment to conserve and improve the state’s fish and wildlife resources in a sustainable way, even as fewer Ohioans choose to hunt, fish and trap every year.  Ohio sportsmen and women share a common goal and common values.  The challenge is how best to achieve our shared goals.

“As Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), and as a lifelong conservationist, I share these commitments and concerns.  I fully support the statutory role given to ODNR’s Division of Wildlife, but we must also balance competing demands and priorities to set a course that succeeds long term.

“When discussing hunting and fishing license fees, it would be easy to maximize revenue and raise rates based on what the market will bear in the short term.  But declining participation rates, and the sustainability of the model, must be part of the conversation.

“Raising fees on Ohioans should be the last option not the first.  At ODNR we remain committed to finding more effective and efficient ways to manage the state’s resources. We need to make tough choices to keep costs down and responsibly manage the funds Ohioans have entrusted to us. 

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn