Tuesday, July 18, 2017

UPDATED II - Dispute exists as to the so-called transfer of a Willidfe Division staffer

It appears at first blush that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources may either be deliberately purging the ranks of the Ohio Division of Wildlife or else the former is using the latter agency as a farm team for its sibling associates.

On Monday came word that the Division's head of real estate - John Sambuco - was ordered transferred to the Department's real estate section. That possibly unprecedented move - or certainly rare move - has Natural Resources critics concerned about what may come stalking next from around the Kasich Administration's corner.

However, the Natural Resources Department sees things differently, noting that Sambuco's position with the Wildlife Division remains intact. He's just operating out of the different Fountain Square complex venue, says an agency spokesman.

It was only one week ago that the Natural Resources Department gave Sambuco's immediate boss, Stacy Xenakis, the ultimatum of either transferring elsewhere or else packing the bags 'cause you're history.

It may be noteworthy that on July 12th at the regular Ohio Wildlife Council meeting the newly installed Wildlife Division chief - Mike Miller - said under a withering question-and-answer session that there would not be any further personnel removals. The intense questioning of Miller largely came from Wildlife Council member Tom Vorisek.

Vorisek's bull-dogged questioning stemmed from his belief that Miller was being less than cooperative in the new chief's responses.

With Sambuco's departure this action brings to nine past or current Wildlife Division employees the Natural Resources Department has axed, transferred or demoted since July 5th. That date is when Natural Resources Director James Zehringer and two departmental assistant directors terminated as the Wildlife Division chief, Ray Petering.

And in virtually every instance the actions were taken with no prior warning nor notification to the impacted individuals. Neither did the Natural Resources Department post any of the newly opened jobs as being available for any potential applicant.

All of which is angering at least one pro-sportsmen's action group. The Columbus-based Sportsmen's Alliance is taking a hard line on the Natural Resources Department's equally entrenched position that it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and to whomever it wants.

“Ohio’s hunters, anglers and trappers don’t know who to trust in ODNR right now, and there has been little to no dialogue to help ease those concerns,” said Evan Heusinkveld, the Alliance's president and CEO in an organizational media release.

The Sportsmen’s Alliance statement also included comments from Ray Petering, who fell out of the Zehringer's favor after only about 18 months. It was back then that Zehringer praised Petering, celebrating the latter's standing with Ohio's outdoors community and internally with the agency's personnel.
“Despite Chief Miller’s assurance in a public meeting, the political purge in the Division of Wildlife continues. Now they’ve moved past middle management and into the rank-and-file Division of Wildlife employees,” said Petering, quoted in the Alliance press release.
“Ohio’s sportsmen and women deserve to know what real agenda is at work to justify the disruption of so many careers of wildlife professionals.”

Not so fast, though, based on comments from the Natural Resources Department.

While Sambuco's title and work load remains the same he simply is working out of a different office in a different Fountain Square building, says a spokesman for the Natural Resources Department.

This, in spite of the fact that Sambuco's immediate Wildlife Division supervisor is now no longer positioned in the same building.

"John Sambuco's responsibilities or reporting structure has not changed; he still works for the ODNR Division of Wildlife," lso says departmental spokesman Matt Eiselstein.

Sambuco's  physical move was made for "ease of work flow and continuity and has proved successful in the past," Eiselstein says also.

"He is now working side by side with other real estate professionals that represent the department and other divisions," Eiselstein says. 

 - Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fromer Ohio Wildlife chief's name officially lives on in spite of firing

In ancient Rome if the Senate truly didn’t like a guy – and we’re talking about absolutely desiring to disown a person – a decree would go out that was called “damnatio memoriae,” or “condemnation of memory.”

In short, the person was erased from life’s recording; the name never to be mentioned and his history scrubbed from the library’s scrolls.

Even further back the Egyptians did it too whenever some pharaoh was later judged less than favorably. It often took some doing to chisel the offending former potentate’s likenesses from a network of stone obelisks but the job got done just the same.

Today and as general rule damnatio memoriae isn’t quite so harsh. In spite of the fact that oft-times the governing powers would prefer that the public forgets what these officials believe is a less worthy administrator. Like Ray Petering; the former chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Petering, as most outdoorsy folks know by now, was handed his head on a platter July 5th by James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Along with two underling accomplices, Zehringer notified Petering in person and also via a short, terse dismissal letter that his services as the Wildlife Division chief were no longer required. Petering was then escorted out of the Fountain Square complex in Columbus, his name (if you will) figuratively scrubbed from the cairn of the chosen few who hold the lofty title of “chief” of some Natural Resources Department administrative clan or another.

All, of course, coming only a span of several months after the very same Zehringer announced with gushing fanfare Petering’s recall from retirement. About the only thing missing back then was the placing of a laurel wreath upon Petering’s somewhat polished dome.

Such distasteful things happen in government all the time, certainly. One administration crosses the cold and deep waters of politics and forges ahead to undo what the previous scalawags did while in office. New people come and the old are quickly forgotten.

In effect, an attempt is made to wipe the dearly departed’s memory (if not their impact) from the thoughts of the civil servants who now much slave away building new monuments that they’ve been ordered to construct.

So Petering is gone and Mike Miller is in; the latter implored to construct (yet again) a refreshingly new sculpture. All performed to help the body public and constituency base see that the just crowned centurion has the emperor's blessing.

Still, Petering’s name has not gone so gently into that good night; not when the wheels of bureaucracy can feel the grit of reality.

Today I entered the catches of two “honorary grandsons” of mine into the ledger of the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Fish Ohio program. Tanner and Tucker each caught eligible qualifiers for both the sunfish and crappie categories.

Besides recording the program’s required data so the boys could claim their Fish Ohio pins several weeks from now, I also ran off respective “Fish Ohio Outstanding Catch” certificates for the lads.

Handsome almost to fault when printed on parchment-type paper stock, the certificates indicate the species taken, length of fish, date and place of catch. The certificate even includes a color representation of the species.

Oh, and one other thing. Located in the lower right-hand corner of the certificate is the wording “Congratulations on your fine catch!” Plus, the printed and signed name “Raymond W. Petering” along with “Chief, Division of Wildlife.”

Intrigued, I looked through the Fish Ohio program’s electronic files to see how many potential certificates might theoretically exist that bears Petering’s name. The count was quantified to focus on the time between July 5th when Petering’s name became a fearful one to say for those left behind and July 15th when my lads caught their prized fishes. The answer was 350, give or take.

Yes, yes, of course, this is no big deal, one might easily say. The truth is likely that the Natural Resources Department’s massive bureaucracy is engaged in more pressing matters. Tinkering with the computer protocols to remove Raymond W. Petering’s name from the Fish Ohio certificate and add that of Mike Miller is trivial, one might effectively argue.

Even so, one might counter by hypothesizing that there exists at least some satisfaction on the part of Petering’s most devoted supporters that his name echos on more than 10 days after the former Wildlife Division chief’s unceremoniously abrupt departure.

Thing is, the Natural Resources Department’ top-to-bottom appointed leadership must understand an ages-old truth. In another 18 months or thereabouts these people – the same ones who have put the fear and wrath of the political gods into the souls of the department’s employees - will assuredly encounter their own damnatio memoriae.

No administration’s monuments stand forever; not even the columns erected by this one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Governor's Fish Ohio Day minus, well, the Governor. And the Lt. Governor, too

Clearly (pun intended) the Kasich Administration is the most opaque and arrogant such governorship assembly in recent memory.

It’s disregard for doing what is correct and right for fish and wildlife is increasingly being ratcheted, tightening the screws on the Ohio Division of Wildlife, destroying morale within the agency’s personnel, needlessly shuffling employees within the body as well as swapping them out to sibling sections.

More often than not waiting to inform the employee only when he or she steps into the office to pack their stuff because they’ve been traded to some other division in some other Fountain Square building.

Let it be understood from the beginning; the Wildlife Division’s hands are not entirely untainted from scandal nor belligerence. For good reason many previous Ohio Department of Natural Resources directors chose not to take on the Wildlife Division, even when that agency did things its way, come heck or high water.

Too, the Wildlife Division failed miserably in reigning in the rouge District Five (southwest Ohio) Office several years back. Shoot, even some agency personnel confided that they’d resign before accepting a position there.

Yet the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is going too far in restructuring the Wildlife Division.

Even as Ohio Governor John Kasich snub of sportsmen’s and sportswomen’s interests is equally distressing and uncalled for.

In a way one could not help but feel empathy for the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association which on Tuesday helped sponsor the 38th Annual Governor’s Fish Ohio Day, held as usual at Port Clinton.

Only Governor Kasich was not there, not that many people believed he’d show up. Neither was his pulpit proxy, Lt. Governor Mary Taylor. Indeed, Taylor was supposed to be there, her boat assignment made that included Natural Resources Director James Zehringer. The vessel was captained by the OCBA’s president, Paul Pacholski, if memory serves correctly.

And if anyone needs a positive experience with potential campaign supporters and lots of press exposure it is Taylor. Taylor is struggling in her efforts to stand out in order for her to capture next year’s Republican gubernatorial nod against Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Ohio Secretary of State John Husted.

Shoot, if Douglas George - the Consul General for Canada - can take a bow at Ohio’s 38th Annual Governor’s Fish Ohio Day than you’d think that the state’s actual governor or his playbill stand-in could have shown up, too.

For that matter it is inconceivable that either James A. Rhodes or George V. Voinovich would have skipped out of a Fish Ohio Day. Not only did each of these former Ohio governors thoroughly enjoy attending the event they also had no lack of desire to host a press conference with the assembled media.

In fact, Voinovich even attended Fish Ohio Days long after he left office; Fish Ohio Day meaning that much to him.

Pity that neither Kasich nor Taylor thought as much, in effect snubbing the assembled media as well as the event’s slate of hosts and participating elected dignitaries representing both political parties.

Perhaps the charter boat captains should have followed through on a suggestion offered by others: Cancel the Fish Ohio event, which was held one day after the “Monday Morning Massacre” in which the Natural Resources Department demonstrated a senseless and brutal display of retribution against the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

If the charter boat skippers had done as much then maybe the state legislators and others left at the dock would have sought an explanation from the governor just what the heck is happening over at Fountain Square. And if Kasich and/or Taylor know, well then, they’re as much of the problem as they are the solution.

But we’ll never know. The show went on without the program’s headlining act.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Ohio EPA program helps fund homeowners' failing septic tank systems

In an effort to protect both ground water and surface water resources the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is working with various Ohio county health districts and county commissions to provide more than $13 million in principle-free accounts to property owners with troubled home sewage systems.

These monies are being channeled to 51 of Ohio’s 88 counties this year, the dollars funneling down from a long-standing program. Its intent is to keep sewage from leaching into water sources from aged and oft-times languishing home waste-treatment systems, typically septic tanks.

Fully 31 percent of Ohio’s home waste-treatment systems are failing and thus are endangering Ohio’s ground water supplies as well as threatening waterways with human waste pollution, says Ohio EPA spokesman Mike Settles.

“Our goal is to reduce this failure rate as much as possible,” Settle says. “It really is a great way for a home owner to fix a waste treatment system with the money being awarded at zero percent cost.”

For 2017, a total of 51 Ohio counties/health districts have been awarded household sewage treatment system principal-forgiveness loans totaling $13,169,000. The program has been offered since 2011, Settles says, with varying dollar amounts. The program was not offered in 2014.

Settles explained that eligible homeowners in the 51 designated counties will receive 100 percent, 85 percent, or a 50 percent share in principal forgiveness for the cost to repair or replace their failing septic system.

Importantly, says Settles “the percentage is dependent on family household income levels.”

“The program’s loans also make possible the restoration and protection of some of Ohio’s highest quality water bodies through the fund’s Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program; or WRRSP, for short,” Settles says.

Created in 1989, the program provides below-market interest rate loans for communities to improve their wastewater treatment systems.

Settles says too that Ohio EPA’s revolving loan funds are partially supported by federal grants and designed to last indefinitely through repayment of loans and investments in bonds. The loan program is managed by Ohio EPA’s Division of Environmental and Financial Assistance, with help from the Ohio Water Development Authority.

Ohio EPA is responsible for program development and implementation, individual project coordination, and environmental and other technical reviews/approvals of projects seeking funds, Settles says.

“To reiterate, the loan agreements are between Ohio EPA and the county commissioners or health departments,” Settles says “The programs are administered by the health departments.”

Thus, Settles says, homeowners concerned about their household sewage treatment systems should contact their local health department to see if this program is available and if they’re eligible for assistance.

For even further information Settles says to visit the Ohio EPA web page dedicated to the program at epa.ohio.gov/defa/EnvironmentalandFinancialAssistance.aspx

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Friday, July 7, 2017

UPDATE TWICE 7/10/17 Sweeping Ohio Wildlife Division personnel changes stuns many

In a move that has stunned many and has angered more than a few, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources axed on July 5th the-then chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife Ray Petering.

Petering was immediately replaced by Mike Miller. Prior to this shake-up Miller was the Natural Resources Department’s boating law administrator within the reorganized Division of Parks and Watercraft.

And at the same time Petering was being dismissed it became known that the Natural Resources Department was changing the assignment designation status of its various divisional assistant chiefs. This transformation removes the various assistant chiefs’ previous civil servant-protected classification to now an unclassified, and thus unprotected, status.

Prior to this redefinition, assistant chiefs positions were more often than not occupied by career “wonks” who are familiar with the day-to-day activities and policies of the respective divisions they serve. This change is viewed as a potentially serious breach of effective civil servant governance, some believe.

Indeed, less than one week later on July 10th The Natural Resources Department shuffled the-then Wildlife Division’s two assistant chiefs – Susan Vance and Scott Hale – to the reorganized Division of Parks and Watercraft.

At the same time the Department forced changes in the leadership of the Wildlife Division’s wildlife management section, its law section, as well as its federal aid administrator.

Meanwhile, at the law section also will now report directly to Miller, who is a commissioned officer.

The new Wildlife Division team is described below.

As for Petering’s abrupt dismissal, expecting to participate in a meeting in the Fountain Square office of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer, instead Petering was met by him and two other top agency officials. Petering was handed a letter of separation.

This letter states that the authority to dismiss Petering without a right to appeal is granted under the Ohio Revised Code and Administrative Code, and that the 60- or so-word document says it “… is to advise you that your unclassified appointment of Deputy Director… with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife is being revoked. This action will be effective immediately.” and signed by Zehringer.

The letter then concludes with “Thank you for your service and wish you the best in any future endeavors.”

Petering was then escorted by Fountain Square security to his former office to retrieve any personal effects and followed to the entrance of the agency’s sprawling, fenced campus complex. It has been learned.

Department spokesman Matt Eiselstein said that these dismissal steps are in keeping with agency and executive branch protocols.

However, Petering is known to have stated that he was “fired” by Zehringer. And this dismissal also is in sharp contrast to a November 13th, 2015 Natural Resources Department press release. In that release Zehringer announced in flattering tone the recall of Petering from Wildlife Division retirement with the statement that reads in part:

“Ray’s background and experience in the field of fish and wildlife resources, as well as his success in establishing and maintaining partnerships to strengthen wildlife conservation, made Ray the ideal candidate for this job,” said ODNR Director James Zehringer. “Under Ray’s leadership I anticipate the Division of Wildlife will make great advancements in furthering ODNR’s efforts to improve Ohio’s fish and wildlife management.”

However, the Natural Resources Department did not respond to inquiries as to why Petering was dismissed so abruptly. That suddenness struck the Columbus-based U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance as payback for the former chief’s belief that increases to hunting and fishing license fees for Ohio residents were necessary to stave off impending financial challenges for the Wildlife Division.

We are surprised and utterly disappointed to learn that the ODNR has decided to fire Wildlife Chief Ray Petering,” said Evan Heusinkveld, president and CEO of the Sportsmen’s Alliance. 

Ray has been a tireless advocate for Ohio’s fish and wildlife resources, and for those who fund conservation; Ohio’s sportsmen and women. While Ray served at the pleasure of the Director, he never forgot who the paying customer was, and Ray worked hard to protect conservation and advance opportunities for Ohio’s hunters, anglers and trappers.”

Not unexpectedly, the Alliance also was more than a little infuriated with the National Resources Department in General and Director Zehringer in particular following Monday’s shake-up within the Wildlife Division.

Not surprisingly then the organization did not waste any time in posting its scathing appraisal of the Natural Resources Department’s latest action Monday, the Alliance using a tone it more often reserves for the anti-hunting movement.

“ ‘I’ve heard from many folks this morning that see these moves as little else but political retribution by Director Zehringer and the Kasich Administration,’ said Evan Heusinkveld, the Alliance’s president and CEO in comments appearing on the group’s web page.

“ ‘Continuing the pattern of the last 6 ½ years, the leadership of the ODNR has not had any dialogue, or expressed any urgent need, to entirely decimate the Division of Wildlife’s leadership with the actual tax payers who fund the agency – Ohio’s hunters and anglers.’

“ ‘Additionally, the Sportsmen’s Alliance has learned that neither (the) ODNR, nor the governor’s office, communicated any need for these changes with members of the Ohio Wildlife Council – a group specifically created to advise the governor and director on matters impacting fish and wildlife resources. The Wildlife Council also had broken ranks with ODNR earlier this year, advising the governor and legislature of the need for the fee increases.

“ ‘It’s clear that the leadership of the ODNR does not value input from the tax-paying public,’ said Heusinkveld.

“ ‘Ohio sportsmen and women have become increasingly concerned that ODNR leadership has intentions of raiding the wildlife fund of sportsmen’s dollars that are intended for fish and wildlife conservation. The complete overhaul of the leadership of the Division of Wildlife will only serve to further those fears and sever any trust remaining between sportsmen and women and this administration.' ”

At the same time as Petering was be severed from his role as the Wildlife Division’s chief, Zehringer was announcing the appointment of Miller as that agency’s head.

In an electronic letter sent to all Natural Resources employees Zehringer said that while he wished Petering “well in his future endeavors” his replacement, Mike Miller, “has had a long and distinguished career with the Department that includes 20 years as a Wildlife officer and supervisor.”

Mike brings an experienced wildlife law enforcement perspective to the position, along with some creative ideas in regard to helping the division thrive. I believe Mike will bring energy and focus to the chief’s role that will help us provide additional opportunities and access for our hunters, trappers and anglers.”

Zehringer added that Miller “will assume his new role immediately, and will be meeting with Wildlife staff to share and discuss his vision for the future success of the Division of Wildlife.”

I know he is eager to hear from staff about their thoughts and ideas, as well as Ohio’s sportsmen and women on what their top priorities are for the near and long term future,” Zehringer said.

That Miller is well qualified to hold down the Wildlife Division fort, people familiar with him heartily agree. Among them is Guy Denny, retired chief of the now largely devolved Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves.

Like Miller, Denny is a resident of Knox County and the latter said that the former served with distinction as the Wildlife Division officer assigned by the agency to that largely rural community.

Mike is a very impressive guy and he is a good choice,” Denny said. “Mike was certainly well respected by everyone in Knox County.”

Still, Denny is not entirely pleased with all of the associated news related to the Wildlife Division shakeup. The move to make assistant chiefs of the Wildlife Division administrative appointees instead of rising through the ranks smacks of patronage, making such candidates answerable to the prevailing political winds and not sound fish and game doctrine, Denny says.

That’s a very bad move,” Denny said.

Rob Sexton, spokesman for the Sportsman’s Alliance, agrees, adding that what happened July 10th can best be described as being the "Monday morning massacre."

Sexton goes even further by nothing that the assistant chief change is potentially more egregious an error than was the sudden dismissal of Petering. That is because assistant chief positions now can be filled with people who have well-heeled political connections but who possess little to no experience dealing with the matters that impact the respective agencies they’ll be working for, Sexton says.

The whole purpose of civil servants is to ensure that government functions well without undo political posturing and interference,” Sexton said.

But Eislestein says the new policy is in keeping within the letter of the law and will serve the department well.

This change was a Department wide move that was undertaken because the title of ‘assistant chief’ carries with it a fiduciary responsibility,” Eislestein said. “Now all assistant chief positions across every ODNR division are unclassified. This review is not unique to ODNR as other departments within the state are also making this change.”

The following individuals have assumed their new roles and titles, effective July 10th and as determined by the Natural Resources Department, as per Eislestein:

Scott Sharpe will oversee wildlife management, district officers, fish management and aviation.

Mike Luers will oversee Fiscal, Federal Aid and Information and Education.

Mike Miller, as a commissioned officer, will have Law Enforcement report directly to him.

Susie Vance (Communications Coordinator) will be in charge of coordinating education, community outreach and marketing for Parks and Watercraft. Scott Hale (Boating Access Coordinator) is focusing on recreational resource planning.

Greg Wade and Dave Kohler will be transitioning to the Division of Parks and Watercraft. Wade is a law enforcement program manager, Kohler will work on recreational programs.

Ken Fitz has moved to ODNR’s Office of Law Enforcement.

Efforts to reach out to Petering for direct comment were not returned successfully. Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Department declined an interview request to speak with Miller until after the deadline for this story.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

WORKING Ohio's Wildlife Division chief makes suddent departure; replaced immediately

The following is a letter to all Ohio Department of Natural Resources employees from the agency’s director, James Zehringer. It announces that Ohio Division of Wildlife chief Ray Petering is returning to retirement and his replacement being Mike Miller. This story is developing and likely will be updated as new information is received.

To all ODNR employees:

I wanted to make you aware of a leadership change in the Division of Wildlife as Ray Petering will be returning to retirement and Mike Miller will be the new chief of Wildlife. I appreciate Ray’s efforts and wish him well in his future endeavors.

Mike has had a long and distinguished career with the Department that includes 20 years as a Wildlife officer and supervisor. He has received a number of honors for his efforts as an officer including the Shikar Safari Award for Wildlife Officer of the Year, Ohio State Grange Police Officer of the Year, Turn in a Poacher Officer of the Year and the Ohio Bow Hunter Officer of the Year.

Mike brings an experienced wildlife law enforcement perspective to the position, along with some creative ideas in regard to helping the division thrive. I believe Mike will bring energy and focus to the chief’s role that will help us provide additional opportunities and access for our hunters, trappers and anglers.

Chief Miller will assume his new role immediately, and will be meeting with Wildlife staff to share and discuss his vision for the future success of the Division of Wildlife. I know he is eager to hear from staff about their thoughts and ideas, as well as Ohio’s sportsmen and women on what their top priorities are for the near and long term future.


Jim Zehringer

Saturday, July 1, 2017

ADDED ODNR/Non-residents to feel the bite of increased Ohio hunt and fish license fee

The Ohio General Assembly and the Kasich Administration are passing the buck to the next class of legislators and a new governor to determine whether the state’s resident hunters and anglers will pay more for their respective licenses and permits.

For now the current crop of politicians made it their duty to increase a number of fees charged to non-resident hunters and anglers. Included in this constituency segment – intentionally or otherwise – are non-resident youth hunters.

Under the just passed two-year General Operating Budget, non-resident anglers will pay more to catch Lake Erie walleye while non-resident hunters will pay more to hunt deer, turkeys and everything else. These fee increases will begin to tangle with non-resident wallets beginning in 2018 as this year’s fees are all ready established.

Spelled out in the just-approved budget is that a non-resident hunter will pay $124 this year for the basic general hunting license, $140.50 in 2018, $157 in 2019, and $174 beginning in 2020. All of these figures do not include the requisite issuing fee.

For a single deer tag a non-resident will pay $24 this year and rising to $74 by 2020.

In order to hunt wild turkeys a non-resident now pays $23 for either a spring or a fall permit. Beginning in 2018 that charge will rise to $29. Again, minus the obligatory issuing fees that are tacked on to each issued permit.

Noteworthy is the elimination of the popular non-resident youth hunting licenses and any associated reduced-cost deer and turkey tags. These less expensive permits were available for youths age 17 and under but beginning in 2018 non-resident kid hunters will have to begin paying what their elders are required to fork over, the new law reads. Ohio sells about 3,100 licenses.

However, in a bow to military service personnel, the new law does permit an individual who is either on leave or furlough – and as long as that individual is likewise on active duty – to buy a deer or turkey hunting permit at the Ohio resident rate. This will be true whether that individual is a resident or not of Ohio.

As for anglers the bite out of the purse will not be quite so severe. For a seasonal license a non-resident now pays $39 (excluding issuing fee); a charge that will climb to $49 by 2020; again, incrementally.

“That’s still a bargain,” said Rob Sexton, spokesman for the Columbus-based Sportsman’s Alliance.

The Alliance was the spear point for the efforts in Ohio to increase license fees charged to both residents as well as non-residents.

In a pitched political battle with leaders of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Alliance and a confederation of some 41 state and national sportsmen and conservation groups intensely lobbied for the fee increases. The matter began in the Ohio House and rolled over to the state Senate where each side on the issue voiced reservations regarding their opponent’s arguments.

Especially bitter in the eyes of the Alliance was the Natural Resources Department’s heel-digging resistance to resident fee increases. And the pro-increase forces had to shepherd their prospective and proposed fee recommendations against some politicians who wanted even greater increases to non-resident fees.

Meanwhile, some other elected officials went so far as to try and exempt land-owning non-residents from even needing to buy licenses if pursuing game on their own property.

“We greatly improved on the state Senate version, which in some cases was seeking increases that were way too high, and the Ohio House version which included fees that were way too low,” Sexton said. “We basically got everything we wanted.”

Everything, that is, except for the brass ring in the form of license fee increases charged to resident hunters and to a lesser degree, resident anglers.

Under the new arrangement the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Wildlife Fund should see an influx of $40 million to $50 million in additional revenue over the next 10 years. However, that range is still a fraction of what is necessary in order to keep the Wildlife Division solvent, or about $220 million over the same period, says Sexton.

Keeping a close eye on how the increases will impact sales of non-resident license products is likewise the goal of the Natural Resources Department, says agency spokesman, Matt Eiselstein
“We supported adjusting non-resident fees in order to bring them in line with other states,” said Eiselstein. “(While) we didn't work directly on this amendment, but we are happy to review it and monitor its impact on non-resident participation.”

Asked also how many non-resident hunters likely will avoid Ohio when the rate increases fully hit home, Sexton said that an economist the Alliance hired to research the question estimated that figure to be about five percent.

“But there’s no real way to say for certain,” Sexton said. “The thing is, Ohio will now be in the ‘sweet spot’ as far as what other top-producing deer-hunting states charge non-residents. It is still a reasonable figure.”

As for the future, Sexton said the Alliance has begun the groundwork of preparing for seeking resident hunting and fishing license fee increases in 2019. That is when the state will take up the next two-year Operating Budget – and Ohio will have a new governor and a new state legislature make up.

After all, says Sexton, with an expected 10-year shortfall approaching $220 million no way can such a deficit “be laid solely on the backs of non-residents, particularly non-resident hunters.”

“There will be a discussion with the next governor, and we’ll shortly begin a dialogue with the various gubernatorial candidates from both parties,” Sexton said. “We’ll also be talking about a whole range of other issues, too, like the status of AEP land; so, yes, a lot of work remains for us to do over the next couple of years.”

Even so, says Sexton, he “feels pretty good” about the accomplishments the Alliance and its cohorts were able to achieve.

“Yes, especially considering that the Natural Resources director originally said that the Wildlife Division didn’t even need any additional money,” Sexton said.

 - Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, June 22, 2017

GOP-led Ohio Senate proposes letting landowning nonresidents buy resident hunt/fish tags

The Republican-controlled state Senate snuck a provision into Ohio’s two-year proposed Operating Budget Bill that would give non-resident sportsmen resident hunting and fishing status.

On June 21st after meeting behind closed doors in caucus over the budget bill, Ohio’s 24 Republican state senators inserted into the proposal’s language two key components regarding residency as it relates to buying hunting and fishing licenses and associated permits.

While sportsmen are just beginning to discover this political gamesmanship strategy by the state Senate, the Columbus-based Sportsman’s Alliance is particularly concerned. The group is worried that the attention these insertions are bringing will draw attention away from what the organization believes is the real budgetary prize.

That matter has to do with fee increases to both resident and nonresident hunting and fishing license fees. In this regard, too, the Republicans have given the Sportsman’s Alliance only a partial loaf.

As for nonresidents receiving residential license-buying privileges, the budget proposal’s language includes revisions to the Ohio Revised Code, Section 1533. These proposed changes would allow nonresidents who own any amount of land in Ohio to be exempt from purchasing a hunting license on the property they own – and also to be able to purchase a resident hunting license to hunt off of their land anywhere in Ohio.

The proposed language transformation would likewise exempt nonresidents who own land in Ohio from purchasing a deer or turkey tag for use on the property they own – and to be able to purchase resident deer and turkey tags to hunt off of their land anywhere in Ohio.

Currently under Ohio law, a nonresident landowner must purchase a nonresident hunting license to hunt in Ohio, and nonresident deer and turkey tags to hunt those species.

Importantly, too, says critics, none of the other 49 states have such non-resident reciprocity allowances. Thus, with a few exceptions that have limited application, an Ohioan who is a landowner in one of the other states is still required to buy any appropriate nonresident hunting or fishing license, species’ tags and also to follow whatever stipulations exist for applying for special limited draw tags.

These changes give tremendous benefits to nonresidents without providing any benefits to Ohio residents, critics charge.

Fearfully, the critics contend, these changes very possibly would open the door for groups of nonresidents to purchase a small amount of land in Ohio. Such a scheme would thereby qualify all of the individuals as owning real property in Ohio, and subsequently receive resident hunting privileges statewide in the process.

The Sportsman’s Alliance says it too was caught off guard when it finally had the opportunity to examine the state Senate’s Operating Budget bill version.

However, of greater worry, says a Sportsman’s Alliance spokesman, is that any flack regarding the newly inserted residency matter will become a smokescreen that allows the group’s push for license fee increases to escape.

“Our official position is that we have not had time to evaluate properly the impact the residency stipulation changes might have, but it is always a concern whenever things are proposed without properly being vetted in a transparent and open manner,” said Rob Sexton, an Alliance spokesman.

Sexton said such study would – and should – include just how many nonresidents would actually buy land worth thousands of dollars for even a small parcel in order “to save a few bucks on buying a license.”

“We just don’t know yet what such an outcome might be, but it is something that should be looked at carefully,” Sexton said. “On the matter of fairness, though; yes, that is important, of course, and it is a question that sportsmen have a right to ask.”

Thing is, Sexton says also, sportsmen must – in his words - “stay focused” on the effort to seek increases to hunting and fishing fees charged to both residents as well as nonresidents.

This is because these fee increases “will have the greatest impact on the quality of hunting and fishing in Ohio,” Sexton says.

On that score the Sportsman’s Alliance achieved only a small portion of what it was seeking. In tweaking the Ohio House Operating Budget Bill, the GOP-dominated state Senate lowered the former’s proposed nonresident deer tag from $250 to $75; and decrease the nonresident turkey tag to $35, down from the Ohio House version proposed charge of $50.

No increase in any resident fees were proposed by either the Ohio House or the Ohio state Senate.

Sexton says his organization and a confederation of more than 40 sportsmen’s organization intend to challenge any finalized merged Ohio House and state Senate that excludes fee increases to residents as well as allowing nonresidents to enjoy resident status without reciprocity.

Even if that means lobbying Ohio Governor John Kasich to employ his line-item veto power over budgetary issues.

“If these things are still there we will seek his help,” Sexton said.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cuyahoga River rowing crew sails into captizing trouble

A busy Saturday so I am passing this one along as is, though I might add I have seen these crews rowing along the Cuyahoga River, a major Great Lakes commercial port with some really, really big boats and such. Not that I'd do that sort of thing, however. Much too old and have much too much common sense.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

CLEVELAND – The Coast Guard rescued nine people from a capsized rowboat in the Cuyahoga River Saturday (June 16, 2017) morning.

The names of the rescued are not being released and there is no Coast Guard imagery of this rescue available.

At 9 a.m., the watchstander at Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor received a mayday call over marine radio emergency channel 16 from a man stating he was part of a group of rowers from a rowing school located on the river and that wake from another boat had caused the rowboat to capsize throwing the nine rowers into the water.

The man stated that he was on a small vessel following the rowers down the river and could not take all nine people to safety.

A rescue crew aboard a 25-foot response boat launched from the station and rescued all nine of the people.

All the rowers were wearing life jackets and there were no medical concerns.

“This is a perfect example of how being prepared can help you in an emergency situation,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Laura Roesch, the officer-of-the-day for Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor.

“They were wearing life jackets, had a way to call for help and stayed with the boat after it capsized, which are the three top things to do in this type of situation to stay alive.”

The Coast Guard rescue team took the rowers back to the school and a third boat from the school retrieved the capsized rowboat.

The Coast Guard wants to remind boaters and paddle crafter operators always wear your life jacket, have a way to call from help other than a cell phone and to be mindful of others on the water.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary 2016 Boating Statistics names operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed and machinery failure rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.

Paddlecraft, including canoes, kayaks, rowboats and stand-up-paddleboards accounted for 24% of the lives lost for 2016, second to open motorboats with 47% of deaths.
Eighty percent of boating accident victims drowned and of those, 83% were not wearing a life jacket.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

UPDATED, SPELL CORRECTED/ Ohio WildlifeDivision jobs need puts A/V technician ahead of officers

(This blog item likely will be updated. Check back for any changes and additions)

In the pecking order to priorities, the Kasich Administration is placing audio-visual and call center technicians ahead of wildlife law enforcement officers being in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Not at all please with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ employment response is the Columbus-based Sportsmen’s Alliance, which has been going toe-to-toe with the agency regarding efforts to increase license fees charged to resident anglers and hunters. The Natural Resources Department opposes them and the Alliance supports them.

Presently there are five counties without a commissioned officer assigned to them: Cuyahoga, Paulding, Hancock, Tuscarawas, and Crawford.

Also absent are two Lake Erie Unit commissioned law enforcement officers, and one commissioned investigative officer in each of the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s five wildlife districts.

The absence in Cuyahoga County is perhaps noteworthy in part because the Wildlife Division announced recently that a two-year investigation saw eight people indicted there for allegedly running a deer poaching ring; the deed allegedly accomplished mostly in Cuyahoga County with several of the accused being residents there.

In all, 12 commissioned wildlife law enforcement positions remain vacant; a situation the Kasich Administration via its Ohio Department of Natural Resources leadership does not find particularly worrisome.

In fact, the Natural Resources Department ranks such positions behind other non-commissioned types of work.

“We currently have five counties that are vacant without a dedicated wildlife officer however the adjacent county wildlife officers handle any concerns in the area,” said Natural Resources spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle.

McCorkle said also that on the Natural Resources Department’s list of priorities “not one wildlife officer was included.”

“It is hard to say there is such a need for officers when it is more important per the (Wildlife) Division to hire fish biologist and (Information and Education) staff,” McCorkle says.

Documention provided by McCorkle and listing positions the division of wildlife has prioritized- approved January 19th -  includes: A business group call center supervisor for the agency’s main Columbus campus at Fountain Square;  a Sandusky fish unit supervisor for the agency’s Sandusky Fish Research Station; a fisheries biologist for the same station; a fisheries technician for the agency’s District Two (northwest Ohio) Office; an assistant wildlife management supervisor for the agency’s District One (central Ohio) office; a wildlife area technician for District One’s Deer Creek Wildlife Area; a wildlife area technician for the agency’s District Five (southwest Ohio) office’s Rush Run Wildlife Area; a public information officer for the agency’s main Columbus campus; an audio-visual technician, also for the agency’s main Columbus campus.

Evan Heusinkveld, president and CEO of the Sportsman’s Alliance, calls the Natural Resources Department’s pecking order of staffing needs that does not include commissioned officers in all 88 counties “stunning.” This disregard is especially true in light of the vital work these agents perform on behalf of sports persons, landowners and fish and game, Heusinkveld says.

Further, says Heusinkveld, the Natural Resources Department’s position “represents a misleading interpretation of the Wildlife Division’s true needs,” noting that this agency didn’t request any commissioned law enforcement officers because it cannot afford to conduct a cadet training class, “not because of a lack of prioritization.”

“Unfortunately, the ODNR has been incorrectly telling legislators and the media that the Division of Wildlife is flush with funds, when in fact, the agency is facing an 80 million to 90 million-dollar operating shortfall over the next ten years,” Heusinkveld said.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

UPDATE II - 6/15/17:Budzik resigns as sportsmen advisor to Ohio Gov. John Kasich over license fee flap

By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Mike Budzik, the long-time sportsman’s and fish-wildlife management advisor to Governor John Kasich and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as well as a retired chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, has resigned.

The move came in direct result of Budzik’s belief that the departmental agency and the Kasich Administration are no longer representing the best interests of the Wildlife Division nor the state’s sportsmen.

By resigning, Budzik forfeits his $14,333 annual salary as an advisor and liaison to Gov. Kasich, paid for through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, along with the use of a departmental vehicle.

At the heart of the issue lies the matter of modest increases to the fishing and hunting license fees paid by resident sportsmen and sportswomen. The Natural Resources Department’s leadership opposes such increases while the Columbus-based Sportsman’s Alliance and its log list of sportsmen- and conservation-based groups support such fee increases.

All sides, however, do back increases to the state’s various non-resident deer-hunting tag fees, though by varying amounts.

The matter is presently before the Ohio State Senate where this week the state’s two-year operating budget is being debated. This proposal was approved by the Ohio House but without any fee increases.

In a very convoluted protocol for weighing such things, the Senate will debate and consider the current proposal, later to take up a laundry list of amendments that will almost certainly include license fee increases, and for which the House is just as certain expected to reject.

The issue then will swirl around various legislative forums, finally arriving at some point before a joint committee made up of members representing both the Ohio House and State Senate and both political parties.

When a deal is finally struck the omnibus budget proposal will go before Governor John Kasich for signing. While the governor can line-item out some points these individual components can only be related to fiscal matters and not to other matters; still potentially endangering any possible legislatively approved hikes to resident fishing-hunting license fees.

This entire matter has so poisoned the well of cooperation that the entire sitting composite of the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council, all living former Wildlife Division chiefs and more than three dozen sportsmen and conservation groups are backing the resident fee increases.

They also have been lobbying Kasich for them, though the Natural Resources Department has been as active in attempting to thwart such increases, calling them unnecessary.

Yet while Budzik was sometimes being criticized for failing to speak up when his former chieftain colleagues were speaking out, it was known that he continued to press for the fee increases through his Administration contacts.

Budzik’s letter to Gov. Kasich expresses his displeasure with the Natural Resources Department’s continued resistance to any license fee increases for the state’s resident anglers, hunters and trappers.

In seeking comment regarding Budzik’s resignation, Natural Resources Department spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle replied simply with: “Mike Budzik did resign on Friday, June 9, 2017 and Director Zehringer thanks him for his service.”

However, the Sportsman’s Alliance was more charitable, its president and CEO, Evan Heusinkveld,  stating that Budzik “has dedicated his entire life to improving and advancing wildlife conservation efforts in Ohio.”

“(Budzik) has been a leader within the Division of Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources and the sportsmen's community for four decades,” Heusinveld said when asked for a comment about Budzik’s resignation. “His dedication, passion and commitment to Ohio's wildlife and natural areas is unrivaled, and his departure from the DNR leaves a significant set of shoes to fill."

Heusinveld said as well that Budzik “has been one of the most honest, and dedicated, public servants that I have ever known.”

“I have come to rely on his guidance and sound advice," said Heusinkveld. "We share Mike's deep concern about the funding crisis of the Division of Wildlife, as well as the need for Ohio to prioritize the retention of AEP's ReCreation lands."

Below is the complete text of Budzik’s letter to Gov. Kasich. This story will likely be updated as additional information and comments become available.

The text reads:


Dear Governor Kasich,

     I notified Scott Milburn Friday afternoon 6-9-17 that I would resign the last day of this current pay period 6-10-17 because it became apparent to me that the role I was given had come to an end because of a lack of or no meaningful dialog with ODNR leadership, “the thirtieth floor”, and yourself.  I tried on two different occasions to talk with you personally during the last several months primarily about the AEP opportunity, the license fee increase and the Wildlife Officer issue, but to no avail.  I didn’t even get a response. I also had no meaningful discussions with the Department on these issues in spite of the fact that my monthly contact status forms, which I was required to submit, indicated that sportsmen were very, very concerned about these issues.

     Governor, what happened? Why did you and your administration quit talking with me and caring or listening about the concerns of Ohio sportsmen and women?  At the start of my position you were concerned about the sportsmen’s interests and issues.  You preserved the wildlife fund, stood up for the Second Amendment; your leadership on Senate Bill One to improve water quality on Lake Erie was superb.   You and I, along with your administrative staff, had meaningful dialog on many occasions.  But since November 2016, you and your administrative staff became silent and indifferent to the issues of importance to the sportsmen and women of Ohio, when in fact they have stood solidly behind you for nearly six and a half years.  On a personal note I did my level best to put you in the very best light to sportsmen and women in Ohio and nationally only to be rebuffed and cast aside.   If you recall, sportsmen and women filled the backyard of the Governor’s mansion by the hundreds on several occasions.  That positive news or ‘feeling’ was spread across the state of Ohio by outdoor news articles, outdoor magazines and radio.

     Governor, today there is a very different type of news or feeling being spread across the state about the Department and yourself concerning three of the most important sportsmen’s issues that have come forward in more than a decade; the acquisition of AEP Recreation land, the much needed license fee increase, and turning wildlife officers into Department of Natural Resource officers.  In these issues, the facts are abundantly clear: The need and support to acquire the AEP Recreation land is overwhelming. The facts and need for the license fee increase is indisputable. And fact that Ohio sportsmen oppose turning wildlife officers into Natural Resource Officers.

     Governor, as your former policy staff and / or sportsmen liaison advocate I should make you aware of the following: on more than one occasion several sportsmen leaders have been confronted, intimidated and outright lied to by DNR officials and/or by DNR family members at public meetings, an administration official referred to some sportsmen leaders who belong to national conservation organizations, such as Ducks Unlimited, as “cult” members.  They have further stated we don’t need or want anyone who belongs to those “cults”, and lastly, some Division of Wildlife officers have been told by a member of the Director’s staff that their days as wildlife officers are numbered- you are going to become part of the Department’s Natural Resource officers, it’s too far down the track- quit fighting it. Now I would question whether these things had ever been said, if I didn’t receive reports like this on a regular basis from many different people that I worked with and have respect.

     Why would any Department official confront or try to intimidate any sportsmen leader or publically disparage any sportsmen or former state employee who has a different opinion from the Department?  These people are passionate about what they believe and know. They should be shown some respect, not branded as members of some conservation “cult”. The truth is that the leadership of ODNR has no regard for the sportsmen and women of Ohio.  And no respect for the organizations that represent them. The Director openly questions whether they even speak for Ohio’s hunters, anglers and trappers.

Earlier this month the Director told the media that he opposes an increase to hunting and fishing fees because he is concerned about decreasing hunting numbers. After nearly six years leading the agency, the first time the Director speaks about one of our top concerns as a community, is to use it as a tool to oppose a long overdue increase in fees.  The truth is that the Division of Wildlife is slowly being financially starved, which prevents it from taking bold steps to try to address this problem, which faces not on Ohio, but all fifty states.  And while the Division of Wildlife has worked for many years on this issue, with some of the groups that have been disparaged by ODNR leadership, the Director has never publicly spoken about his concern over falling hunter numbers, until now as a tool to oppose the license fee increase.

     In our earliest discussions, you mentioned your commitment to seek and provide professional natural resource leadership and your intentions to not transform the Division of Wildlife into something less than what it is.

     I’m asking you to personally get involved with the AEP opportunity. It is truly the wildlife conservation opportunity of a half century. The loss of access to these lands would be a terrible blow to outdoor recreation in Ohio. This issue requires your leadership.  I’m asking for your personal support for the license fee increase. We can’t cut our way to find innovative solutions to attracting new participants, especially in the face of rising healthcare, retirement and salaries, that were all approved by the legislature and this administration.  The fee increase, which has been a rare occurrence, is about business, and providing quality opportunities at a reasonable price.

Lastly, I ask that you commit to keeping the Division of Wildlife whole, leaving wildlife officers to be wildlife officers directed by the Chief of the Division. At this moment, the agency is short 25 officers because it cannot afford their salaries, or the cadet classes to recruit them. Five counties are vacant, having no wildlife officer at all. Issues like this are what has convinced many sportsmen that the administration is trying to financially starve the Wildlife Division to force consolidation of law enforcement. Opposition to the fee increase provides fuel to that belief. 

     Look at the overwhelming support on these issues from the conservation organizations across the state; Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Nature Conservancy (AEP). Ohio Environmental Council, Ohio Conservation Federation, The Buckeye Trail Association (AEP), League of Ohio Sportsmen, Chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Ohio State Trappers Association, Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, etc., the list goes on and on. These groups and their members, would be ecstatic to have your front and center leadership on these issues. It’s not too late to address these issues. 

     I assure you this will be received in an overwhelming positive light.

Your friend in conservation,

Michael J. Budzik