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

No comments:

Post a Comment