Ray Petering, chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, wanted more money to operate his division and its many programs. To do that, he was pushing for an annual $3 increase for resident hunting and fishing licenses. His boss, the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, did not agree. Now Petering is the former chief.
I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked by the news that Ohio Division of Wildlife Chief Ray Petering was fired this past week. All those fireworks on the Fourth of July. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources had plenty of its own the next day.
I say I shouldn’t have been surprised, because the state government is run quite a bit like the military. If you dare to question the boss’s authority, you are reprimanded or punished. Petering was quickly shown the door and Mike Miller, an administrator from the Division of Parks and Watercraft, was introduced as the new chief of the Division of Wildlife.
“I was asked to attend a meeting with the director on Wednesday morning,” Petering told me. “I sat down and was told I was being replaced as chief. They asked me if I wanted them to say I resigned and I told them, ‘I’m no quitter. There’s no reason to sugar-coat this.’ With that, the director got up and left the meeting.”
Petering was then accompanied to his office by an HR official and a law director. He was told to put his belongings in a box, give up his computer password and his keys; then was ushered out of the building.
ODNR did not make an announcement of the change. Instead, Director James Zehringer sent a letter to ODNR employees, including Mike Mainhart, president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio, that included the following: “A change in leadership was made today in the ODNR Division of Wildlife as Mike Miller, a former Wildlife officer with nearly 20 years of experience, was appointed as the new chief of Wildlife. The Director recognizes the commitment and efforts of former chief Ray Petering as an effective wildlife conservationist…”
I asked Zehringer to comment further, but he did not respond.
Petering said he was not surprised by ODNR’s decision to terminate him.
“This has been building since the first of the year,” Petering said, “and it was becoming obvious that either you do the dance the way they want it or they will get someone else. I can guarantee you the guy they have in there now will do things the way they want it done.
“Look, when I signed on it was to run the division in a way that would benefit all sportsmen in Ohio. I have always felt they are the people that I was in there to serve.”
The firing of Petering and the resignation of consultant Mike Budzik a couple of weeks ago were the result of a push by the Division of Wildlife and more than 20 Ohio sportsmen’s organizations to have the legislature approve a $3 per year rate increase for resident hunting and fishing licenses. That attempt officially died last week when any mention of a resident fee increase was omitted from legislation that will phase in a raise for non-resident fees to fall in line with many other states.
Zehringer announced that he was opposed to a fee increase for residents, but the Division of Wildlife and the sportsmen’s groups continued to promote it, saying the money is needed to effectively operate the division.
Petering retired at age 53 as administrator of fish management for the Division of Wildlife in 2011 after 30 years of service to ODNR. He was then lured out of retirement by ODNR and named wildlife chief in late 2015 with Zehringer then calling him, “the ideal candidate for this job.”
But Petering was a biologist before he was an administrator. He was never a politician.
“You know, I feel the Division of Wildlife should be run by wildlife professionals, people who have wildlife and the sportsmen and sportswomen’s interests at heart,” he said. “Not by a group of political appointees.”
That, as it turns out, was an idealistic notion. The reality is … politics wins.
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