Jim Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has removed nearly the entire leadership of the Ohio Division of Wildlife (DOW) in a move that hunting and fishing groups see as political payback.
As the legislature ironed out its final differences in the two-year budget bill, a coalition of 41 sportsmen’s organizations led by the Sportsmen’s Alliance convinced the Ohio House and Senate to include increases in non-resident hunting and fishing fees. The increases are expected to produce upwards of $40 million in new revenue over the next 10 years towards a projected $220 million budget shortfall.
The increases were initially opposed by the ODNR, which continued to tell legislators that the agency was solvent even though research clearly demonstrates the agency is facing the largest financial crisis in its existence. The research, and unanimous support of Ohio’s conservation community, convinced legislators to approve the fee increases as part of the budget bill signed on June 30.
Director Zehringer’s response was immediate and without any consultation with the hunting or fishing community:
- On July 3, ODNR removed civil service protection from the assistant chiefs of the agency, allowing the agency to bring in political appointees to fill these positions, which have always been experts in their respective fields. The move also cleared the way for the assistant chiefs to be fired without cause.
- On July 5, Director Zehringer fired DOW Chief Ray Petering with no justification given.
- On July 10, ODNR continued its decapitation of DOW leadership by removing the two assistant chiefs.
- Additionally on July 10, Director Zehringer removed the Wildlife Management Section Chief, Information and Education Chief, Law Enforcement Section Chief and the agency’s head law enforcement training officer.
- Finally, Director Zehringer removed the Division of Wildlife’s Federal Aid Coordinator – the person responsible for coordinating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure Ohio receives its fair share of federal aid dollars that come from excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment and fishing gear.
All but former Chief Ray Petering were offered alternative positions or demotions.
“I’ve heard from many folks this morning that see these moves as little else but political retribution by Director Zehringer and the Kasich Administration,” said Evan Heusinkveld, president and CEO of the Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Continuing the pattern of the last 6 ½ years, the leadership of the ODNR has not had any dialogue, or expressed any urgent need, to entirely decimate the Division of Wildlife’s leadership with the actual tax payers who fund the agency – Ohio’s hunters and anglers.”
Additionally, the Sportsmen’s Alliance has learned that neither ODNR, nor the governor’s office, communicated any need for these changes with members of the Ohio Wildlife Council – a group specifically created to advise the governor and director on matters impacting fish and wildlife resources. The Wildlife Council also had broken ranks with ODNR earlier this year, advising the governor and legislature of the need for the fee increases.
“It’s clear that the leadership of the ODNR does not value input from the tax-paying public,” said Heusinkveld. “Ohio sportsmen and women have become increasingly concerned that ODNR leadership has intentions of raiding the wildlife fund of sportsmen’s dollars that are intended for fish and wildlife conservation. The complete overhaul of the leadership of the Division of Wildlife will only serve to further those fears and sever any trust remaining between sportsmen and women and this administration.”
About the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation is responsible for public education, legal defense and research. Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense capability possible. Stay connected to Sportsmen’s Alliance: Online, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.