Long-time Ohio outdoors advocate Mike Budzik resigns his position as an adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The reason wasn’t personal; it was professional. It was obvious to him that he was no longer wanted.
I haven’t talked to Mike Budzik for several years. I’ve seen him when I have attended outdoor functions that included the governor. I can tell you Budzik is a nice man who is passionate about the outdoors and outdoor sports and recreation. He’s a former chief of the ODNR Division of Wildlife.
Now he is being ignored. So much so that he has resigned as an advisor and liaison to the governor. He wasn’t fired. He quit. The governor might not realize it, but he just lost the counsel of a valuable expert. Before joining the governor during his first campaign for Ohio’s top office, Budzik had retired in 2002 from the Division of Wildlife after a 28-year career, the last eight as chief. So he knows what he’s talking about.
In his letter to the governor, made public by Budzik, the former wildlife chief said he was concerned about three areas: acquisition of land, the financial situation at the Division of Wildlife (and ODNR’s opposition to raising resident license fees) and the apparent move by ODNR leadership to bring all wildlife officers into a single ODNR police force that includes park rangers and watercraft officers.
Although these three issues have a great impact on the future of outdoor recreation in Ohio, I believe it is a political conflict and nothing more. Budzik knows that and also that sportsmen and women, the people who participate in hunting, fishing, boating and other outdoor sports, are caught in the middle.
Here’s my take on the three issues:
1. American Electric Power is selling thousands of acres of land in eastern Ohio. It is prime land for hunting and fishing. The Division of Wildlife would like to buy a sizable chunk to expand hunting and fishing opportunities, but doesn’t have the money. That leads to:
2. The Division of Wildlife is operating in 2017 on a 2003 budget. It doesn’t have the money to buy AEP lands. And it doesn’t even have enough money to place officers in all 88 Ohio counties.
For the most part, the Division of Wildlife has always paid its own way, raising money through license fees and the money returned by the federal government for special taxes paid on outdoor sports equipment (fishing rods and reels, hunting rifles, ammo, etc.). The modest increase for hunting and fishing licenses ($19 to $22) would give the division the funds it needs.
3. Putting specifically-trained wildlife officers in a natural resources police force is ill-advised. I heard an ODNR assistant director say that park rangers and watercraft officers already write (minor) tickets for wildlife infractions, so they’re all the same, right? Not even close. Both officers have specific, important jobs to do. But the training is specialized. And while rangers cover one or two state parks, a wildlife officer covers the whole county. Combining the two could cause a Keystone Cops situation.
What it is boiling down to is a power struggle at the top of state government. It’s already created one casualty, Mike Budzik. He was an obvious advocate for his former division and some didn’t want him having the governor’s ear. So he was shunned and now he is out.
Budzik is also a former employee of the Columbus-based Sportsmen’s Alliance. There seems to be a constant (and needless) war going on between the ODNR brass and the leaders of the Sportsmen’s Alliance.
It’s time to take a step back. Lower your dukes. Put in the stinking little $3 fee hike and get back to business as usual. There are plenty of problems to solve – like toxic algae – without all this political nonsense.
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