Friday, January 5, 2018

(Revised) Opposition mounts to Ohio Division of Wildlife's club grant program changes

Changes to an Ohio Division of Wildlife program intended to assist the state’s sporstmen/conservation clubs in developing their respective hunting and angling supportive efforts are not going over well with the latter.

These changes include a reduction in the total dollar amount that will be awarded; this overall program reduction totaling 33 to 50 percent. The money is distributed in grant form, made available through a competitive application process which itself will now see a reduction of up to 50 percent per successful recipient.

Yet the slashes have outraged some conservation clubs as well as their pro-sportsmen organizations such as the Columbus-based U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance.

The Alliance calls the cuts “a slap in the face” and represent “a huge blow” to clubs in Ohio who were promised this would never happen, especially since the revisions came without consulting the state’s sportsmen/conservation clubs.

Under the revised program the Wildlife Division will and will not:

* Total of $500,000 in grants will be funded for the State.

* Total requested funds for an application cannot exceed $7,500.

* Non-essential items will not be funded, and among them being: Food/drinks; T-shirts; cooking grills; giveaways/prizes deemed not applicable and any other items deemed non-essential for an event.

A series of meetings at each of the Wildlife Division’s districts is scheduled. For District Three the meeting is set for January 11th; District One is February 1st; District is January 25th; District 4 is January 24th; and District Five is January 29th but at the Green County Fish and Game Club in Xenia. All of them begin at 6:30 p.m.
At each of the Wildlife Division’s five district office to go over the revised program with interested sportsmen/conservation clubs

The background for this program – which began in 2014 – has included funding provided by the federal government under the Pittman-Robertson Fund (supplied via taxes on firearms and ammunition) and the Dingell-Johnson Fund (supported by taxes on many fishing-related items).

Last year 515 clubs and organizations applied for grants, and all applicants received at least partial funding, the Wildlife Division says.

This disbursement protocol again could be the case, depending on the number of applicants that receive the full amount requested (211 in 2017) as well as the strength of the applicants’ request, said Mike Miller, the Wildlife Division chief who also defended the changes.

The Division of Wildlife is pursuing these changes in an effort to more fully implement all three components of the ‘R3 Model’ (recruitment, retention and reactivation),” Miller said.

The changes are expected to be used by the clubs to improve and enhance their efforts, not to hinder their progress in the shared goal of recruiting and retaining people that enjoy shooting sports and fishing.”

Ultimately the changes are expected to be used by the clubs to improve and enhance their efforts, not to hinder their progress in the shared goal of recruiting and retaining “people that enjoy shooting sports and fishing,” says Miller.

Then too, says Miller, the changes are being made so the Wildlife Division can pursue buying properties that will be used to “promote activities associated with R3” and similarly to improve shooting range access of all kinds – both public and private - through expansion of offerings and upgraded amenities.

These added opportunities will be available for the clubs to use as they pursue their mission to engage Ohio’s hunters and anglers,” Miller said.

Miller said as well that the Wildlife Division is developing so-called “R3 Learn To” modules that successful applicant clubs will be able to cooperatively utilize to “help them partner with one another,” and likewise to “host successful events for future and active hunters and anglers.”

The division is also pursuing an aggressive hunter access program that is expected to include agreements that will open up corporate and private properties for Ohio sportsmen and women,” Miller said. “This is in addition to the new opportunities that have already been secured, and continue to be pursued, on state owned lands.”

The flip side is that seeking and implementing such opportunities will require the Wildlife Division to abandon allowing participatory clubs to enfold such things as free food and beverage into their grant request.

However, the Alliance is not buying the Wildlife Division’s arguments, noting that the revisions came without consultation with the affected interested parties themselves: sportsmen/conservation clubs. That point is particularly irksome to the Alliance.

This funding cut breaks an agreement between Ohio’s conservation clubs and the Division of Wildlife that dates back to the elimination of the license writing fee for license agent clubs,” said Alliance associate director of state services, Luke Houghton. 

When electronic licenses became available, the Wildlife Division created the “Conservation Club Competitive Grant Program,” intended to ensure that the conservation partnership between the clubs and the state “continued to flourish,” Houghton said.

Under that system the Wildlife Division guaranteed that the grant program would never fall below $750,000 per year, and in many years it has exceeded that total, even breaking $1 million, Houghton said also, noting that the agency “cannot accomplish its mission without strong partnerships with the conservation community.”

While the cuts to this program are a small fraction of the overall budget of the agency, they are a huge blow to clubs in Ohio which were promised this would never happen,” Houghton said said.

Houghton says that Ohio’s sportsmen’s clubs are "vital to conservation and hunting, fishing and trapping," providing an army of volunteers that conduct youth education and recruitment events, women’s events, veteran’s events, shooting events, hunter education classes and much more, Houghton said.

Ohio’s conservation clubs are vital to the recruitment of new hunters, anglers and trappers; and are the social hub of communication to the sportsmen’s community,” Houghton said.

The use of club grounds are most often donated, along with thousands of volunteer hours that provide the Division of Wildlife with the match to receive Pittman-Robertson dollars,” Houghton said. “All of these things are in addition to the actual vital work the clubs do.”

And not allowing clubs to fund food, beverages, cooking equipment and offering premiums to program participants “is a slap in the face to clubs that provide nearly everything else for free,” Houghton said as well.

Giving kids a hot dog and a soda at a recruitment event is no great burden, and it actually provides a benefit to the clubs that are doing all of the work and ensures an enjoyable event for the participants,” Houghton said.

While Miller says the Wildlife Division “is in good financial standing” and that the agency is “working to re-prioritize our outreach efforts focusing on true recruitment, retention and reactivation efforts,” the Alliance is far from certain the agency is being entirely truthful on the whole cloth of the subject.

First, despite pleas from Ohio’s sportsmen and women that the Division of Wildlife needed additional funds during last year’s budget battle, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Wildlife have insisted that the agency is flush with funds,” Houghton said who then offered the rhetorical question “ If that is so, why cut funding to this important program?”

Houghton said the Alliance strongly encouraged all of Ohio’s sportsmen/conservation clubs to attend the Division’s five district meetings to “make sure your concerns are heard.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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