Here we go again!
As of Tuesday, Ohio sportsmen could very well be left holding the bag for funding administrative costs for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife.
At the crux of the trouble is a vote planned for that day by the Ohio House of Representative on the state's biennial budget bill. If the vote goes as many think it will, it could cost Ohio sportsmen and sportswomen millions of Wildlife Fund dollars.
If it passes it will critically hamper the effectiveness of the DOW.
"The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and Ohio hunters, trappers and anglers are frustrated -- and frankly angry -- that the House has not committed to preventing sportsmen's dollars from being diverted from the DOW Wildlife Fund to pay for other government programs," the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance said in a press release this week. "The diversion will cost $3.6 million over the new budget cycle. This will result in higher license fees and less habitat for wildlife."
Tony Celebrezze, field director for the USSA, said Friday that sportsmen need to get together and make their feelings known to state legislators.
"We need to do something now, before the clock runs out," he said. "We can't do nothing."
The change that led to the current situation came about more than two decades ago, when the ODNR's administrative costs were paid through general tax dollars.
Celebrezze explained that during a similar tough budget situation, Ohio's government came up with a method for additional dollars via a plan termed Central Support, which was explained as a way for each ODNR-based division to pay its portion of administrative costs to the DNR.
"Instead of the ODNR receiving direct funding for administrative costs, as it had in the past, charges were divided up into portions assessed to each division. It was billed as 'each division pays its fair share,'" the USSA said.
At that time, sportsmen saw that what was happening was basically a raid on sportsmen's dollars, and they protested.
"The real agenda was to allow the government to have access to the dedicated sources of funding in the Wildlife Fund and the Waterway Safety Fund," the USSA said. "The administrative costs of the remaining DNR divisions continued to be funded with general tax dollars. Ohio sportsmen rightly objected.
"Because the Wildlife Fund is comprised of monies from the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses and taxes on sporting equipment, sportsmen have vigilantly fought to prevent diversions to pay for other government programs. As taxpayers, they saw this as double taxation."
Protest pays off
The ensuing protest led to the Ohio Legislature agreeing to pay for the DOW as it did for the other ODNR divisions, and a law was passed protecting these dollars.
In 2003, the language that gave this law teeth was eliminated. In the ensuing two years, sportsmen groups such as the USSA have been working to have the Central Support plan funded with general tax dollars and to restore the protective language, Celebrezze said.
Celebrezze said Friday that it seems as if the vote Tuesday is an unstoppable train roaring down the revenue track.
"We cannot get a commitment from many of the legislators who claim to be allies of Ohio sportsmen," said Rob Sexton, USSA vice president for government affairs. "While sportsmen have some friends in the Statehouse, we don't know where we stand with most of them on this extremely important issue. Believe me when I say that legislators will be hearing from Ohio's 2 million sportsmen who will ask one simple question: 'Are you with us?' "
If the budget passes as it is, Celebrezze said, "sportsmen will be left holding the bag. We will get nothing, basically."
To help promote the cause against this move, Ohio sportsmen and sportswomen are being urged to attend a "Rally in the Rotunda at the Statehouse" at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
As they did two years ago for a related issue, those planning to attend should wear a hunter-orange cap so legislators can identify them as outdoors enthusiasts.
You can also leave a message for your state representative by calling (800) 282-0253
The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and its related USSA Foundation protects the rights of hunters, anglers and trappers in the courts, legislatures, at the ballot, in Congress and through public education programs. For more information call (614) 888-4868 or visit www.ussportsmen.org.
This isn't an issue to ignore. The future of the Division of Wildlife, and in effect the future of hunting and fishing in Ohio, lies in the balance. If you can attend, do so.