HB473: Aiding mobility-impaired hunters

Last week, Buckeye Firearms Association volunteer Bob Harsanje and Dave Graham, Chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) Division of Wildlife, offered proponent testimony before the Ohio House Finance & Appropriations Committee on House Bill 473.

Proposed by State Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D - Toledo), at the urging of and guidance from Harsanje and fellow hunter, HB473 would, among other things, create mobility impaired access lanes on various public hunting lands of the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The bill also would allow mobility impaired, licensed individuals to hunt from such lanes with a special permit via electric-powered all-purpose vehicles or in a stationary road vehicle.

"Mobility impaired hunters deserve the same rights to enjoy their pastime as any other Ohioans," Ujvagi notes. "This plan will help clear some of the obstacles in their way."

From an article in the Toledo Blade.

"The Division of Wildlife has long sought to provide enhanced access to hunters with mobility impairments to interior areas of the state's wildlife areas, while limiting disturbance to other hunters and minimizing negative impact to wildlife habitat," [Dave Graham, state wildlife chief] stated.

For his part, Harsanje said the proposed legislation "gives hope. It takes the focus off the disability and focuses on opportunity. The physically impaired want nothing more than to be accepted as themselves."

He estimates Ohio is home to several thousand mobility impaired hunters.

From Harsanje's testimony, as delivered to the Finance & Appropriations Committee:

I believe if I am asking for your support, you are entitled to know “why.”

Approximately a year and a half ago, Mr. Gil Kollarik and I were discussing my physical impairments that, in the beginning, prevented me from enjoying my lifelong love of hunting and the Great Outdoors. They also prevented me from participating in one of the above-mentioned ODNR co-sponsored hunts due to travel distance and other factors.

“How many more physically impaired hunters,” we mused, “are in the same boat? People whose bodies have been afflicted by accident, acts of war or disease, yet they struggle and fight to regain as much normalcy as possible. People who love to hunt but simply don’t have the means to do it. There has to be a way to make more opportunities possible.”

At that point, our conversation turned to a little “outside the box” thinking: Why don’t we record our ideas of how to possibly build on the foundation the ODNR has built and request an appointment to talk with them?

We did, the concept was accepted and presented to Mr. John Daugherty, District Two Manager of the Division of Wildlife and other ODNR officials. Representative Ujvagi learned of it and volunteered involvement. Not long after Governor Strickland took office, the wheels of progress began to turn.

Gil and I were ecstatic. As word spread about the possible development of this bill, numbers of individual hunters, sportsman and hunting groups and organizations enthusiastically came forward, promising their support in any way possible.

So here we are today – at the cusp of rolling out an innovative program that will ignite hope and possibility within many, many physically impaired hunters and outdoors-persons who can be re-integrated back into the woods, the grasslands and waterways they love. And please know this, Mr. Chairman and members of the House Finance Committee – you will not find people more appreciative, more determined and more thankful for the opportunities they will enjoy.

Harsanje's complete testimony can be downloaded here.

A letter of support for the legislation from Buckeye Firearms Association can be downloaded here.

Again, from the Blade story:

If approved the Ohio Department of Natural Resources initially would construct three new access roads - one each for a wetland, woodland, and grassland hunting area - in each of the state's five wildlife districts for a total of 15 such lanes. Traffic would be limited to EPAPVs.

Currently hunting rules designate just nine motor vehicle access lanes statewide on wildlife areas for use by hunters with disabilities.

The plan also would extend the hunting zone to at least 100 yards on either side of the paths and amends state gun laws that prohibit firing of a weapon from a vehicle in this specific case. In addition, mobility impaired hunters would be able to hunt from stationary road vehicles on designated service roads.

Up to now, Harsanje noted, physically impaired hunters have been limited to special drawing-hunts conducted once a year on several state wildlife areas. "These are great events for those lucky enough to be drawn, but because of their popularity greater numbers of applicants are being turned away each year."

At the conclusion of testimony, the Committee voted to amend HB473 into Senate Bill 209, an omnibus fiscal bill that already includes some other natural resources provisions. The amendment is supported by SB209's primary sponsor, Sen. John Carey, and should receive attention on the House floor soon.

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