By Dave Golowenski For The Columbus Dispatch
Talk isn’t always cheap.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife, showing a willingness to work with assertive constituents, has changed course on an issue after a series of public meetings with members of numerous sportsmen’s clubs and organizations.
At stake was the amount of money available annually to clubs for outreach events under the Conservation Club Grant Program. The wildlife division in January announced its intent to cut the grant pool from $750,000 to $500,000, to reduce the maximum grant for a club from $15,000 to $7,500, and to restrict items for which grant money may be used.
First, though, the division wanted to hear what those affected thought about the plans. After listening to uncounted “members of clubs and organizations, some who agreed with the changes, and others who disagreed,” wildlife chief Michael R. Miller wrote, the division decided to abandon the proposed cuts.
Still, Miller emphasized that the awarding of competitive grants will be weighted toward proposals that follow guidelines established by a national program adopted by the wildlife division as a model for promoting recruitment, retention and reactivation — the so-called 3Rs.
Community outreach activities are considered an important contributor to rebuilding the number of hunters in a period of declining participation. The Ohio wildlife division is funded almost exclusively by hunters, trappers and fishermen through fees and taxes.
More than 100 years ago, hunters and fishermen laid the groundwork for the modern conservation movement. The loss of influence brought by the dwindling number of conservation-minded citizens eases the way for an increase in environmental degradation and public-land loss.
The grants competition was established as a way to help local clubs recoup revenue lost when the division switched to a web-based license/permit issuing system. Before the electronic system was put in place, clubs could issue licenses and were compensated by collecting a writing fee for each license or permit sold.
The money helped fund programs and activities, at least some of which were designed to promote hunting, trapping and fishing in the community. Critics, however, say there has not been enough effort to recruit new members.
In the letter announcing the restoration of grant money, Miller wrote that the division intends to continue investing in its 3R program.
“We hope that these grants will improve our partnership and help all of us become more successful in encouraging our children, friends and neighbors” to participate in hunting, trapping and fishing, he wrote.
Calling for public input on another matter, the division seeks comments and questions about 2018-19 hunting and trapping regulations proposed during recent Ohio Wildlife Council meetings. Among significant changes are plans to institute a trapping season for bobcats and to alter the deer bag limits on public land.
The eight-member council will decide on the proposals during its April meeting.
In the meantime, citizens have many opportunities to be heard. An online comment form will be available at wildohio.gov through March 4. Open houses are scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. March 3 in each of the five wildlife districts.
A statewide hearing on the proposals is scheduled at 9 a.m. March 15 at District One headquarters on Dublin Road. Members of the public are allowed three minutes to speak during council meetings on issues currently under discussion; registration is required by phoning at least two days before the scheduled meeting.