Seeing fees go higher is a way of life, but Columbus has it all backwards. It’s not the government that wants sportsmen’s license fees to increase; it’s the users.
Someone has referred to the situation in Columbus as “Bizarro World.” And that might just be an apt observation.
Here’s the scenario: A sizable number of Ohio sportsmen’s organizations have come together to propose a fee increase that would modestly bump up the cost of a fishing or hunting license or a deer permit. But here’s the twist: the Ohio Department of Natural Resources doesn’t want it and won’t go along.
What appears likely to happen is the ODNR will get its way, freezing resident license and permit fees at current levels. But the Ohio legislature will approve a pending house bill that would raise fees for non-residents.
Politics? You betcha.
If you recall, the hike in non-resident deer hunting fees was proposed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife in 2015, only to be shot down in the Ohio Senate. That could happen again, but not likely.
A little over a month ago, the Columbus-based Sportsmen’s Alliance, a national watchdog for all conservation concerns, announced it had the backing of “Ohio’s top conservation groups” to ask the legislature and governor to put through a hike in resident licenses of $3 annually, while increasing non-resident annual fees from $149 to $250.
This is where ODNR stepped in. Last week ODNR Director Jim Zehringer, perhaps feeling left out of the discussion, issued a statement opposing any raise in resident license fees, mostly on the grounds that raising fees will mean fewer licenses will be sold and those numbers have dwindled enough in recent years.
But, ODNR is not opposed to this year’s version of the non-resident hikes.
“Non-resident fees are being considered separately, and this does not have to be a both or neither scenario,” ODNR spokesman Matt Eiselstein said in a written statement.
At this point it seems likely the ODNR will get its way: no hikes for residents, hikes for non-residents.
Assistant Director Gary Obermiller, speaking to the Outdoor Writers of Ohio last Saturday, said ODNR needs “to study” the proposal and is, at this point, not convinced it is necessary. So, apparently, no dice.
Not so fast.
“We will continue to make our case (to the legislature) that the raise in fees for resident licenses is needed,” said Rob Sexton of the Sportsmen’s Alliance. “We don’t think they (ODNR’s Division of Wildlife) can do 2017’s work with 2003’s money.”
The sportsmen’s groups say they are, “Concerned about counties with no law enforcement presence, decreasing fish stocking, decreases in wildlife habitat management and a growing list of projects that need to be done …”
It appears to me this whole thing will play out over the next few months. What I don’t want to see is a power grab involving other divisions within the department. For years some divisions that have little or no ability to raise money have lusted after the “rich” wildlife division that can support itself on sportsmen’s dollars from license fees and federal funds. Remember (ODNR director) Sam Speck?
What do I think should happen? I think they should all sit down, check their egos at the door, and come up with an idea that will leave well enough alone and allow fees to increase for the first time since 2003. I mean, I have no problem with paying an extra $3 per year for the privilege of fishing in Ohio.
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