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

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