USSA Hosts Annual Legislative Reception
by Larry S. Moore
Ohio sportsmen and women flocked to Columbus to attend the USSA legislative reception. The sportsmen were anxious to hear what the legislative leaders might say regarding Ohio's budget and the impact on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Issues on their minds included the budget, drilling on ODNR Park lands, proposed concealed carry legislation and the Asian carp threatening Lake Erie.
Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R - Medina) and Senate President Tom Niehaus (R - New Richmond) were scheduled as the key-note speakers. However, Governor Kasich scheduled a Town Hall meeting to present his budget. This event required the attendance of not only the Speaker and Senate President but the legislators as well. Many legislators were at the event early or stopped much later in the evening. Most sent aides to meet with constituents and represent them for the evening.
The speakers for the evening included Scott Zody, Assistant Director ODNR. Zody immediately tackled the budget situation noting, "I want to update the budget which is the business of the day. First the good news, the Wildlife Fund is whole and we will do our best to ensure it remains protected. The Division of Wildlife is looking at a maintenance level budget. We were successful in obtaining General Revenue Funds to cover the central support charges. The good news is there is no immediate threat, however caution is always the watch word. Keep an eye on things and stay in touch with our legislators."
Zody noted that ODNR is not immune from the budget crisis facing Ohio saying, "We have some legislative changes in the budget for consideration that will affect other areas of the department, specifically park, forest and the land management divisions. These work in close partnership with the Division of Wildlife and have an impact on the opportunity to hunt and fish. We are reaching out to sportsmen and asking for your support of the Governor's budget. These initiatives will help the ODNR to become more efficient and self-reliant when it comes to funding."
While Zody never uttered the words "drilling on state lands", most of the sportsmen believed that was the meaning of his plea for support. Why it wasn't directly addressed can be attributed only to the divisive nature of the drilling on public lands issue. The issue has divided sportsmen, who want access to prime lands and a fully funded ODNR. It is drawing the ire of many conservation and environmental organizations across Ohio.
Division of Wildlife Acting Chief Vicki Mountz also addressed the group. Mountz was brief in her remarks saying, "The Division has a long standing partnership with the USSA. Your involvement helps us to do our job better. The big news for the Division is the new customer license sales and game check system. We intend for it to be user friendly for sportsmen. I think you will find it user friendly with the turkey season coming up and the ability to check your harvest using the phone or the internet rather than searching for a game check station." Mountz recognized that the Division is in transition with many positions, including the two Assistant Chief slots, being filled by interim personnel.
Evan Heusinkveld, Director of State Services for the USSA concluded the evening by thanking everyone for attending. He implored sportsmen to stay in contact with the legislators, "In these tough economic times, it is even more important that sportsmen educate our legislators about the role we play in conservation and the economy. We are a 1.5 billion dollar industry providing jobs and tax revenues across the state. The relationships made tonight with legislators are critical and help us protect the right to hunt, fish and trap."
Sportsmen stayed throughout the evening to renew friendships and debate the merits of the current issues.
A number of Division of Wildlife personnel plus the legislative aides provided a great opportunity to get questions answered and give input directly to those involved in protecting our natural resources and making our laws.
Legislative Reception Sponsors included Gander Mountain, the Ohio State Council of Pheasants Forever, Buckeye Firearms Association, Ohio State Trappers Association, Hi-Point Firearms, the Ohio State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ithaca Gun Company, the Southwest Ohio Chapter Safari Club International, the Central Ohio Chapter Safari Club International, Whitetails Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited.
Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a long-time volunteer leader for Buckeye Firearms Association and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award, the 2007 League of Ohio Sportsmen/Ohio Wildlife Federation Hunter Educator of the Year and the 2010 National Wild Turkey Federation/ Women in the Outdoors Hunter Education Instructor of the Year.