MIKE BRAUN Ohio's sportsmen gave DOW a hand

When Gov. Bob Taft signed the state budget for 2002-2003 last week, he vindicated the scores of sportsmen who went to Columbus this spring to protest the possibility of spending cuts in the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
This version of the Ohio budget was one of the hardest in years to put together because the recent economic downturn had cut revenues and because of a looming Ohio Supreme Court-ordered multibillion-dollar fix of the state's school-funding system.
Ohio's sportsmen were given a call to arms earlier this year when it became apparent that cuts might be made across the board -- including the DOW -- because of decreased revenues to share by all state agencies.
Who led charge: Led by the Columbus-based Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, hundreds of orange-hat-bedecked hunters, anglers, trappers and others flooded to Statehouse budget hearings in an effort to protect Ohio's conservation programs and the integrity of the state Wildlife Fund.
That fund is basically filled by sportsmen's license fees and taxes on firearms, ammunition and fishing gear.
A similar assault on Division of Wildlife funds in 1983 also brought out Ohio sportsmen in droves, and they were successful in keeping the DOW's funding intact then as well.
"People know what happens when the government starts taking your money," Dan Long, Ohio field director for WLFA, was quoted in an organization press release. "They've seen what has happened with Social Security and the Ohio Lottery, and they're not going to let that happen to the Wildlife Fund."
Funding source: The Ohio Division of Wildlife is funded mainly through fees generated by sportsmen -- in fact to the tune of about 94 percent of the DOW budget.
Ohio sportsmen became concerned earlier this year when it became apparent that the DOW was facing budget cuts as high as $4.5 million, about 10 percent of its budget. And there was concern over the law that prevents the Wildlife Fund from being diverted.
A concerted effort by sportsmen organizations such as the WLFA, local clubs and other areas brought phone calls, e-mails and letters by the hundreds to the Statehouse.
Legislative hearings were marked by more than 250 sportsmen, most of whom wore the orange ball caps.
The attention paid to the situation from January until the budget was signed Wednesday by Taft meant the Division of Wildlife was able to acquire more funding than it began with.
A WLFA release listed the areas funded included license reimbursement at $1 million; central support was funded at only $750,000, but the language protecting diversion of the Wildlife Fund was retained; the Division of Wildlife will also now receive a one-eighth percent share of the motor vehicle fuel tax.
All in all, according to the new budget , the DOW will receive an additional $1.5 million per year.
Ohio's sportsmen can pat themselves on the back for being there when needed. It just goes to show that when called to make an accounting of themselves for the future of Ohio's outdoors, Buckeye state sportsmen do have the courage of their convictions.

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