Responding to concerns about declining services to Ohio sportsmen, Gov. Mike DeWine’s newly released biennial budget proposal would take major steps to address the pending financial crisis facing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Wildlife and help it return to the level of quality expected by its paying customers, Ohio’s sportsmen.
A recent analysis of the Division of Wildlife’s financial health revealed a stunning backlog of projects, a severe shortfall in the funds necessary to maintain staffing, and a lack of funding to retain the AEP ReCreation lands – a huge swath of public fish and wildlife habitat available for hunting, fishing and trapping. Combined, these items have left the Division of Wildlife with a funding shortfall of up to $306 million over the next 10 years.
“Gov. DeWine and ODNR Director Mertz have quickly recognized the problem faced by Ohio sportsmen and women, and have shown their willingness to step up and provide the leadership necessary to help fix these issues and ensure the future of conservation in Ohio,” said Evan Heusinkveld, president and CEO of the Sportsmen’s Alliance, which is coordinating a coalition 38 of the state’s most prominent outdoor organizations, clubs and chapters concerned with the financial crisis.
The groups have united behind several high priority items, which they are calling the Conservation Reinvestment Initiative. The package of provisions, which is included, in Governor DeWine’s Executive Budget would provide roughly $87 million to address AEP and operational funding needs.
The Initiative would:
- Include $47 million in bond authority that can be dedicated toward retaining AEP’s ReCreation land.
- Implement a modest increase on resident fishing licenses and hunting permits, estimated to provide $40 million over the next ten years.
- Allow the Division of Wildlife to approve small, incremental fee increases to keep up with increasing costs to prevent large increases in the future.
- Provide funding to repair Ohio’s deteriorating shooting ranges, fish hatcheries and boating/fishing access.
“In previous decades, the Division of Wildlife was funded adequately to allow it to handle critical land needs and its operations, but too many years of kicking the can down the road have brought us to a place where if nothing is done, hunting, fishing, trapping and fish and wildlife habitat will all suffer greatly,” continued Heusinkveld. “This funding cliff has grown so large that there no longer is a simple fix. Instead, we’re going to need a comprehensive and creative solution over the next few years. We’re grateful that Gov. DeWine has been willing to work with our coalition to address this issue. His commitment in this budget is the first step towards solving this crisis, and we are counting on our legislators to support the Conservation Reinvestment Initiative as well.”
Ohio hunters, anglers, trappers and recreational shooters have become increasingly unhappy with the backlog of projects that would help improve their outdoor experiences. Projects including shooting ranges, fishing and boating access, wetland and marsh repairs and other badly needed work have been delayed for years due to a severe lack of funds. Access to available hunting land in particular is essential to the future of hunting, which explains the concerns about the AEP lands, which will be sold to private owners if not retained by the state of Ohio. The governor’s budget is a critically needed shot in the arm that will enable the Division of Wildlife to make improvements to meet the needs of its customers.
Ohio’s leading sportsmen and conservation organizations have united to support these items under the banner of the Conservation Reinvestment Initiative. The coalition supporting the initiative has already grown to 38 organizations: Sportsmen’s Alliance, Buckeye Firearms Association, Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Fed – OH Ch., Ohio State Trappers Assoc., Ohio Conservation Federation, OH Pheasants Forever, OH Quail Forever, SCI – Central OH Ch., Greene County Fish and Game, Hocking County Fish and Game, Columbiana County Fed. of Conservation Clubs, Adams County Sportsman Quail Forever, Ashtabula Rod & Gun Club, Black Swamp Pheasants Forever, Crawford County Pheasants Forever, Darby Plains Pheasants Forever, Deer Creek Pheasants Forever, Erie-Ottawa-Sandusky Pheasants Forever, Fulton County Sportsmen’s Club, Gallia County Conservation Club, Greater Columbus Pheasants Forever, Hardin County Pheasants Forever, Headhunters Club, Henry County Sportsmen’s Club, Inc., League of OH Sportsmen, Marion County Pheasants Forever, Miami County Pheasants Forever, Ohio Back County Hunters and Anglers, Ohio Bass Federation, Ohio Central Basin Steelheaders, Ohio Husky Musky Club, Richwood Gun and Game Club, Senaca County Pheasants Forever, SW Ohio Ch. SCI, Stark County Federation of Conservation Clubs, Union County Pheasants Forever, and Wyandot County Pheasants Forever.
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.