Wednesday, February 27, 2019

(UPDATED) DeWine picks Kirtland Hills attorney to head Ohio Lake Erie Commission

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine continues to fall back on policy wonks to help him shape his natural resources, agricultural and environmental agenda.

Recently named by DeWine to head the Lake Erie Commission is Joy Mulinex, of Kirtland Hills in Lake County. She takes over a small four-person (including herself) staff that helps organize, share and develop strategies that are intended to assist Lake Erie’s recreational, commercial, environmental and other associated issues.

Mulinex will earn $115,000 annually for the job; the same figure her predecessor under the-then Kasich Administration collected. Her immediate previous job was the Director of Great Lakes Relations with Geauga County-based Western Reserve Land Conservancy, a Non-Governmental Organization, or NGO.

The position also was elevated so that the director now reports directly to the governor and not some departmental head.

And like her counterparts who now lead the Ohio departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture, Mulinex is a female attorney.

However, Mulinex says her selection is neither gender-based nor because she is an attorney. Rather it is because Mulinex – like the other aforementioned agency heads -has advised DeWine during the governor’s previous several political lives.

“It’s about finding the right person for the job,” Mulinex said. “I believe my selection had more to do with my background in Great Lakes Policy and some of its associated programs. That will help me with my new job.”

In Mulinex’s case that fit included previously working on Great Lakes issues for DeWine when he was in Washington as a U.S. senator rather than in Columbus when he was the state’s Attorney General or its Lieutenant Governor.

“This new job gets me back to doing some of that work,” Mulinex said.

This work is multi-faceted; dovetailing with several state agencies and departments. Among them are Natural Resources, Commerce, Health, Agriculture, and Ohio EPA, with some members also coming from the private sector. The group meets quarterly in public.

One of the Commission’s role being to help ensure that everyone is working from the same playbook as shaped by DeWine.

The spear point of DeWine’s Lake Erie initiative are so-called “Policy Pillars.” Chief among them, Mulinex quickly says, is the oft-contentious issue of nutrient loading from farm field run-off – chiefly within the Maumee River Basin – that is the backstop of the annually seasonal Lake Erie algal blooms.

“Governor DeWine has enfolded that particular policy issue as a priority of his administration,” Mulinex said. “That should not come as surprise to anyone, and it won’t be accomplished overnight.”

Mulinex did say the DeWine Administration will seek additional funding in the up-coming budget for help in solving this problem though no exact number was available at the time of writing this story.

As for the funding of the Commission’s activities, that comes in at least some measure from the sale of motor vehicle license plates that feature either the Marblehead Lighthouse or one featuring a stylized life ring encircled with the words “Lake Erie.”

These license plates cost an additional $25 annually of which $15 is secured in the Lake Erie Protection Fund, held in a trust account. Some of the proceeds from these sales goes towards scientific and various research grants of up to $50,000 each that benefit Lake Erie in a wide array of issues and matters.

Though the license plate sales started out strong when the program was first introduced in 1993, collecting about $900,000, that figure is dropping about five percent annually and now stands at only about $145,000 annually.

Thus, additional funding – particularly for staff salaries – must come from the various agency members. To save money, the Commission closed its Toledo office with staff now work at other state offices located along or near the Lake Erie shoreline. Mulinex will be working out of the DeWine Administration’s Cleveland office.

Mulinex says she does not anticipate any major shifts in how this grant program works but that her staff will continue to monitor that all applications will help provide the foundational footers for DeWine’s Policy Pillars regarding Lake Erie.

The Commission – with the assistance of its agency partners - also develops a periodic Lake Erie Protection and Restoration Plan, the latest installment being written three years ago.

All with an eye focused on transparency, Mulinex says also, noting that a methodology will be used to gauge the impact and effectiveness of the team’s approach along with “accountability.”

“The make-up of the Commission represents a wide spectrum of interests, so we have a lot resources that we can tap,” Mulinex said.“

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Friday, February 15, 2019

Ohio's proposed new rules would simplify check-in life for successful deer/turkey hunters

The latest deer-hunting regulation proposals contain language that is intended to make life easier for successful hunters; not to make life more productive for Ohio’s deer herd.

And the same goes or turkey and turkey hunters, too.

Presented to the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council on February 14th, the request is to allow hunters to transport to their residence or temporary lodging their deer or turkey without a game tag being attached to the animal or bird, so as long as the necessary permit is properly filled out and the hunter remains with the animal.

Among the other additional rule changes up for consideration is one that allows hunters to carry either a printed or an electronic version of their valid deer or turkey permit.

In each case the purpose is an incremental step toward further utilizing electronic methods for buying, accessing and recording license and tag sales as well as required data submission and collection, says Ken Fitz, the recently re-installed wildlife law administrator for the Wildlife Division.

Of particular interest to hunters, says Fitz, would be that hunters no longer would confront the requirement of tagging a deer or a turkey at the point of kill. Only after the deer or turkey is delivered to some destination would a tag have to be attached, Fitz says.

The idea actually came from our District Four (Southeast Ohio) wildlife officers as part of a working group discussion on proposals,” Fitz said. They were seeing that tags were getting lost on deer that were being dragged from where they were shot, or hunters were field dressing a deer, moving it a few feet and than the animal being tagged.”

While such activity is a violation of proper tagging requirements, Fitz said his law enforcement staff was reluctant to write tickets for a simple lapse in judgment or because a hunter was unfamiliar with the nuances of following the rules to its letter.

However – and this is a huge however, says Fitz – an animal or bird still must eventually bear some form of tagging that includes the hunters, name, county of kill, as well as the date and time of kill.

Thus, once a successful hunter has gotten back to the vehicle, garage, home, barn, game processor, or wherever the animal – be it bird or beast – better have the proper paperwork, Fitz said.

A hunter just can’t drop off a deer and leave it untagged and then go back out into the field to keep hunting or to assist; it must be tagged first,” Fitz said.

In effect, the Wildlife Division wants to ramp up the opportunity for electronic savvy hunters to utilize their equipment by not only buying their licenses and tags via so-called “smart phones” but also recording that data which then can be accessed by Wildlife Division officers, Fitz said.

Not to worry, though, hunters who do not own a smart phone or those persons who simply prefer to continue using some form of paper documentation. That method will continue, Fitz said.

We recognize that not everyone has a smart phone,” he said. “It would be an option, just like the paper tag hunters use now will be an option.”

As for that infernal 18-digit number a successful deer or turkey hunter must obtain via a telephone call or on-line with a computer, tablet or other such device, the Wildlife Division very much wants to cut it, Fitz said.

Hopefully by one-half,” he said.

It was also proposed to change the name of the antlerless deer permit to deer management permit. Another proposal is to require hunters who harvest a deer within a disease surveillance area (DSA) to deliver the head to an inspection station only during the seven-day gun season rather than all firearm seasons.  

Overview of proposed deer hunting seasons for 2019-2020:
  • Deer archery: Sept. 28, 2019-Feb. 2, 2020
  • Youth deer gun: Nov. 23-24, 2019
  • Deer gun: Dec. 2-8, 2019; Dec. 21-22, 2019
  • Deer muzzleloader: Jan. 4-7, 2020

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ohio's junior senator Rob Portman is for the birds - but in a very, very good way

Ohio’s junior U.S. senator helped lead a bipartisan charge to make life easier for migrating birds on their travels to and from their breeding and wintering grounds.

Senator Rob Portman – a Republican – with Democratic U.S. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland to secure the Senate passage of S. 310, the “Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act.”

This important pro-wildlife proposal reauthorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s program to promote “the long-term conservation, education, research, monitoring, and habitat protection for more than 380 species of migratory birds,” Portman said.

I worked with my colleague Senator Cardin as part of a larger legislation that includes more than 100 public lands, natural resources, and water bills,” Portman said.

S. 310 will invests some $6.5 million annually through 2024 for critical conservation programs that have demonstrated marked successes through public-private partnerships and innovative granting and conservation strategies, Portman says.

In noting that hundreds of migrating birds pass through Ohio twice annually, Portman also says that the Lake Erie shoreline is one of the nation’s most popular destinations for birdwatching. 

Ohio is also home to the annual “Biggest Week in American Birding”, based at Maumee Bay State Park. The week-long event brings in more than 75,000 people each year.
Consequently, Portman says, birding – a term that many people still call “bird watching” - contributes more than $20 million to Ohio’s tourism industry and attracts visitors from across the world each year.

Protecting and conserving these bird populations is critically important, and I am pleased the Senate approved this bipartisan legislation. I’m looking forward to this legislation being signed by President Trump very soon,” Portman said.

Cardin agrees, saying that migratory birds “play a crucial role in our ecosystems, our agriculture, and our national and local cultures.”

The programs funded by the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act have consistent track record of success in helping to sustain populations of migratory birds that face threats to their health and habitats,” Cardin said

Even so, both Portman and Cardin cautioned that migratory birds continue to face a host of environmental threats. These issues range from pesticide pollution, deforestation, urban and suburban sprawl, and invasive species that degrade their habitats.

Additionally, S. 310 will reauthorize the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act” which supports 570 projects in 36 countries. Since 2002, more than $66 million in grants have been awarded through this program with more than 4.5 million acres of habitat being positively impacted throughout the Americas, Portman said.

In 2018 alone, more than $3.8 million in federal funds were matched by more than $14.2 million in partner contributions going to 29 collaborative conservation projects in 16 countries across the Americas,” Portman said.

And Cardin said as well that the reauthorization measure marks the nation’s continued commitment “to improving our environment and investing in the flora and fauna that help our communities grow and thrive.”

Last year, Portman received the Audubon Society’s Conservation Hero award for his work to protect migratory birds and their habitats.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

(UPDATED) New tight hunting regs created deep cuts in Ohio wildlife area deer harvest

The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s efforts at cutting back the deer kill on wildlife hunting areas worked even better than anticipated last season, significantly reducing the total harvest on such holdings.

And unless hunter attitude surveys squeal any loud opposition, the restrictions will remain for at least the 2019-2020 Ohio deer-hunting season. Or better still, the state’s deer management supervisor hopes, through the 2020-2021 Ohio deer-hunting season.

The rule states that for deer hunting on wildlife areas, hunters can take only one antlerless deer from public hunting areas per license year, and require that only antlered deer be harvested on public land following the last day of the statewide general firearms deer-hunting season.

Consequently, says Mike Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division biologist who oversees the state’s entire deer management program, far fewer deer were taken on public hunting areas during the 2018-2019 deer hunting season than during its 2017-2018 counterpart.

In fact, the decline was significant, says Tonkovich.

What one needs to do is put the total deer harvest into two piles: those taken on private property and those taken on public land,” Tonkovich says.

While the 2018-2019 deer kill (called “harvest in the parlance of wildlife biologists) on private lands was down five percent, it actually fell by almost 35 percent on public lands. In real numbers the public land deer kill last season was 10,864 animals while in 2017-2018 that figure was 16,625 animals, Tonkovich says.

The five percent is insignificant, but the 35 percent is a lot,” he said.

Broken down even further, the antlered kill on public land fell 19 percent last season while the antlerless season dropped a whopping 44 percent, Tonkovich says.

The numbers surprised even us,” Tonkovich said.

Tonkovich said the rules will need at least one more season to better assess their impact and “ideally three years.”

Behind the rules was the intent to build up the number of deer that utilize public wildlife areas in an effort to help maximize hunter interest. Should public lands hunters see animals it is thought this activity will help sustain their drive to continue hunting.

Yet at the “end of the day, if this rule does not impress the overall hunter attitude survey this regulation is gone,” Tonkovich also says.

Those surveys are consequently vital for biologists in order to better calibrate deer management strategies and the regulations that go with such work, Tonkovich says.

Unfortunately, we send out 10,000 surveys but the return response is not great,” he said. “We really do need to ramp up the response rate.”

The Wildlife Division will present its 2019-2020 deer-hunting regulation proposals February 13 before the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council, though “in all honesty hunters ought not to expect any dramatic changes,” Tonkovich says.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Ohio's 2018-2019 total deer kill lowest since 2001

It’s been almost two decades since the last time Ohio’s deer kill has failed to exceed what hunters shot during the 2018-2019 combined deer-hunting seasons.

From September 29th, 2018 when the first crossbow bolt was launched until February 3rd, 2019 when the final arrow was nocked – and all of the ammunition and blackpowder bullets exited their respective barrels in-between – Ohio deer hunters shot a preliminary 172,040 animals.

Not since the 2001 season have fewer deer been killed in Ohio during the state’s various legal deer-hunting seasons. That is when just sightly more than 165,124 deer were taken.

And going back through the most recent deer season history, the statistic show that the deer kill for the 2011-2012 was 219,748 animals; for the 2012-2013 season it was 218,910 animals; for the 2013-2014 season it was 191,459 animals; for the 2014-2015 season it was 175,745 animals; for the 2015-2016 season it was 188,335 animals; for the 2016-2017 season it was 182,169; and for 2017-2018 season it was 186,247 animals.

Thus, this past season’s deer kill was some 14,207 fewer deer than were killed during the preceding all-methods-combined deer-hunting season. Only seven of Ohio’s 88 counties saw increases in their respective deer kills this past season with one county posting an identical kill.

Reasons are many and varied for this past deer season’s deer kill (called “harvest in the parlance of wildlife biologists), says Scott Peters, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) Office in Akron.

“It really wasn’t a total shocked,” Peters said of the fourteen-thousand-plus decline.

“It seemed that every time we had a season start we saw terrible hunting weather, and that happened also on what one would think were peak hunting days, too. Hunting conditions were less than optimum or ideal.”

Consequently, Peters said, hunters either stayed home, hunkered down for the long haul in ground blinds or else shunned stalking and other tactics typically employed to motivate deer into coming within the gunners’ sights.

Peters said also fueling the challenges were other natural factors well out of control of either hunters or deer managers. Among them was a heavy hard mast (oak acorn) crop that in many instances meant deer did not have to travel very far to find food to help them fatten up for the winter, Peters said.

Yet some regulatory changes also no doubt played a role, Peters said as well.

The most noteworthy of these new rules was the prohibition of taking antlerless deer on the bulk of public lands following the conclusion of the statewide seven-day general firearms deer-hunting season.

“Some hunters didn’t think much about it until the time came and either they had all ready filled a tag, decided not to go out hunting, or else could not find some private property to hunt,” Peters said. “We got calls about this regulatory change, which happened a year ago.”

Even so, Peter says such an alteration in allowance probably would account for one or two thousand animals fewer animals, “not fourteen thousand.”

However – and Peter says this is an important “however” - the entire purpose of the public lands restriction is to bolster the deer herd on public lands. And this coming fall this restriction should mean that hunters will begin to see more deer on public lands, Peter says.

Also, Peters says that more than a few of those fourteen thousand deer will remain in the state’s deer herd reservoir. With the bonus that many adult does who gave hunters the slip almost certainly are expected to add fawn recruitment going into this coming 2019-2020 deer-hunting season.

“We have to think of the long-term when we look at deer management and regulations,” Peters said.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn