I am Eric Hirzel and I am a member of the Ohio Wildlife Council. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the council here’s a link. http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/about-contacts/wildlife-council This letter will likely cost me a re-appointment. I put myself out there for appointment to the council to give back to the things that I have had an incredible passion for my entire life. But what is at stake is far more important than me or anyone else. The Ohio Division of Wildlife is under attack and the consequences could be catastrophic. Ohio Division of Wildlife is one of the rare state agencies that don’t receive general fund revenue to for operations, acquisitions, and programs. The federal Pittman/Robertson (hunting) and Dingell/Johnson (fishing) excise taxes collected on sales of equipment for each category match funding to state wildlife agencies and commissions 3 to 1 for land acquisitions, facility construction or upgrades and other programs on a reimbursement basis. Ohio has to fully fund the project or program then request those matching funds. 41 sportsmen’s organizations…… led by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance are pushing for Ohio’s legislature to include a provision for both resident and non-resident hunting and fishing license and permit fees in the latest biennial budget. They are passionate about protecting the future of their livelihood, their passions, and the quality of the currently healthy fish and game status in Ohio — and are concerned about the number of hunting and fishing violations that are taking place. A bill that included significant non-resident increases in deer and turkey permits only has passed the house and is currently in committee in the Senate. Ohio has been rated as a top 5 trophy whitetail destination and Lake Erie’s walleye fishery is in a class by itself. The average cost for a non-resident deer tag in other top states is $393. Ohio charges $125 for a hunting license and $24 for a hunter’s choice tag over the counter. Ohio’s neighbors on Lake Erie are all $75 to $85 for a non-resident fishing license while ours is $40 for an annual non-resident. This group is pushing for these increases to offset rising costs and inflation during the 14 years of static license and permit fee pricing. In addition, declining hunting license sales (a well-documented national trend) compounds the funding shortage for ODOW. Recent retirements have left several vacancies with nobody to fill them due because there is not enough funding for a wildlife officer cadet school. Lake Erie enforcement is currently down two investigators. 5 counties in the state (Paulding, Hancock, Crawford, Cuyahoga, and Tuscarawas) have no wildlife officer assigned, and all 5 districts are down 1 wildlife investigator each. And there are currently 12 commissioned officers and/or supervisors that are eligible to retire within a year. There are also unfilled fishery biologist positions in the Lake Erie Fisheries research unit due to lack of funding. Fish stocking programs have been greatly reduced and state facilities are aging. The need for license fee increases is obvious to everyone except the man in charge, ODNR Director James Zehringer. There is a dangerous game being played to push the agenda of Zehringer and his minions……to facilitate a merger of ODOW into other divisions in the department and raid the sportsmen’s dollars they contribute towards license and permit fees. They of course deny it……… just as they did the prior to the operations and financial merger of Divisions of Watercraft and Parks. Publicly they are saying they oppose increase fees because ODOW has not yet indicated what they need additional revenue for. This is deceitful and ludicrous considering they issued directive to all ODOW employees and administration to not talk about license and permit increases if they want to keep their jobs. So why is the ODNR director trying to sabotage this effort? The ODNR is the umbrella cabinet-level agency that oversees many divisions, including Parks and Recreation (now Parks and Watercraft), Coastal Management, Forestry, Oil and Gas, Real Estate, Water Resources, Engineering and others, notably the Division of Wildlife. The ODOW gets the majority of their budget from the license fees that sportsmen pay to hunt, trap and fish. The ODNR wants to access these pay to play fees from sportsmen to support other poorly-funded divisions. By opposing a license fee hike that would right the Division of Wildlife's financial ship, a weakened Division of Wildlife could more easily be forced by the ODNR to merge with another division to perform administrative jobs. It takes legislation for this to occur, but then it is a small step to combine Division of Wildlife officers with the Parks/Watercraft enforcement. Wildlife officers are trained through a unique Cadet Academy and receive supplemental annual training. They are not interchangeable. The ODNR has already diminished the effectiveness of the Division of Watercraft by combining it with the Division of Parks but they got the money. Boat registrations funded most of watercraft so now Parks can access those funds for paths and benches instead. I myself have noticed a conspicuous absence of watercraft presence in the busy Ottawa County ports and channels. At the Outdoor Writers of Ohio meeting last month, ODNR assistant director Gary Obermiller stated to the assembled writers that he never said that he wants to combine officers since it would be illegal. Yet, over a dozen Division of Parks and Watercraft employees have told me that he has stated these specific intentions in their presence. He also accused the group leaders of the 41 different sportsmen’s organizations who are on board supporting a license increase proposal of not representing the interests of their members. Yet, he had no data to support this theory, other than a straw poll he claims he did with 11 customers in a coffee shop. The conservation groups cite high levels of member support. Obermiller blames lower license sales after each price increase as a reason to not raise fees in spite of well-documented data that shows new recruitment has fallen as aging sportsmen are forced to drop from the hunting ranks. Reduced hunting access and competition for free time also play a large role in those declines. Meanwhile fishing license sales are far more steady. The Ohio senate is in the process of working to complete the budget bill prior to the June 30th deadline. Director Zehringer recently testified and shamefully used a smoke and mirror game to push his agenda by telling the committee the increase is not needed citing lack of information on from the gagged ODOW. He picked favorable time period snap shots of the DOW budget showing a the periods of large balance while conveniently omitting detail like: what portion is encumbered for current projects, projected year-end balance, opportunities for land acquisition (AEP has been trying to sell 60,000 of land to the DOW for a year for public hunting and fishing), and need for cadet training. (Zehringer carefully said there is an enforcement “presence” in all 88 counties meaning there is a supervisor.) The most important omission is the DOW has 2 small time periods where the bulk of its revenue is received which are hunting season and early spring when fishing licenses expire. That makes for a large balance on the books during those periods. These ODNR officials have been overheard saying they will succeed because Ohio sportsmen don't care enough to stand up and be heard. 6 former Division of Wildlife Chief (Democratic or Republican-appointed) drafted and signed a letter in support of the need to raise fees. The member-elected leaders of over Ohio 41 conservation groups and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance initiated the proposal. In a rare move, the bipartisan Ohio Wildlife Council drafted, signed, and unanimously voted to send a letter supporting a license fee increase in the budget bill to ODNR Director Zehringer, Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly. This is a call to action! It is urgent you take a few minutes and let them hear from you right now! To maintain Ohio’s highly regarded wildlife programs, funding must keep up with rising costs. Now is the time to speak up to protect our outdoor heritage! Your state senator, Kasich, and Director Zehringer need to hear from you today via emails and phone calls. They think Ohio's sportsmen don't care enough to be heard but his bill could be decided on in the next 2 days so do it now! Call and email your State Senator, the ODNR Director James Zehringer, and Governor Kasich right now and ask for two things: 1. Support a fair increase non-resident fishing and hunting licenses and permits, and a modest increase in resident hunting and fishing licenses and permits to restore the quality of the Division of Wildlife. 2. Reject attempts to weaken the ODOW in order to raid sportsmen’s funds to subsidize the other general funded ODNR divisions. Find your state senators at http://ohiosenate.gov/index; ODNR director James Zehringer http://director.ohiodnr.gov/ Governor Kasich at http://www.governor.ohio.gov/.