A coalition of Ohio’s premier hunting, fishing and trapping organizations are calling on Ohio’s Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly to address a long-ignored funding shortfall. the lack of cash has prevented the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and its Division of Wildlife from addressing access, habitat and facilities issues, which are now a full-blown crisis.
The Division of Wildlife, mostly funded by Ohio sportsmen, has not had a resident license fee increase since 2004, the longest stretch in its history. That has caused the Division of Wildlife to fall badly behind the funding curve, jeopardizing projects that improve habitat, hunter access, boating access, target shooting ranges and dam repair.
The agency is also short 25 wildlife officers due to a lack of funds for cadet classes and staffing.
Former Gov. John Kasich and Dir. Jim Zehringer of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources were adamantly opposed to any and all license hikes the last eight years. Sportsmen successfully lobbied legislators to increase the cost of non-resident license fees.
A major expense sought by the conservation groups is a comprehensive funding package to retain American Electric Power’s ReCreation lands. Four years ago, AEP announced its intent to sell the 60,000-acre property (located in Guernsey, Morgan, Muskingum, and Noble Counties). This land has been open to the public for decades for hunting, fishing, trapping and other recreational activities.
The cash-strapped Division of Wildlife has not been able to make a substantial purchase of the available lands, which represent 10% of all available property open to the public in Ohio.
Sportsmen’s groups, including the Sportsmen’s Alliance, began raising these issues more than six years ago, when a simple hunting and fishing license increase could have addressed most of the problem.
“The declining level of service to hunters, anglers and trappers is unacceptable, and the loss of these lands would be absolutely devastating,” said Evan Heusinkveld, president of the Sportsmen’s Alliance, which is coordinating the Protect What’s Right Coalition to address the funding crisis. “Sportsmen and women have been willing to support a modest increase in hunting and fishing fees to ensure quality hunting, fishing and trapping, and the habitat that sustains abundant fish and wildlife.
“Today however, the problem is far too large to solve with a simple fee increase. We’re counting on Gov. DeWine and the legislature to work with us to craft a comprehensive solution.”
In addition to the Sportsmen’s Alliance, the coalition of concerned organizations include the Buckeye Firearms Association, Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation-Ohio Chapter, Ohio Conservation Federation, Ohio State Trappers Association, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, Safari Club International-Central Ohio, and many local conservation clubs representing tens of thousands of Ohio sportsmen and women.
“We have been encouraged by Gov. DeWine’s willingness to hear our concerns as he was campaigning last fall, and by discussions with Director Mertz and the team she has put in place at ODNR,” said Heusinkveld. “We’re counting on them to provide the leadership necessary to help us solve this issue.
“We fully recognize this problem didn’t develop overnight, and it certainly wasn’t of Gov. DeWine’s making. But it is a challenge that will require bold leadership to solve. Our groups are ready to work with the legislature and the DeWine administration to chart a path forward,” said Heusinkveld. “It is essential to the future of hunting, fishing, trapping and conservation that we retain the AEP property, while addressing the other funding challenges that impact quality hunting and fishing opportunities.”