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Outdoors | DeWine restores old order to Ohio Division of Wildlife after Kasich turmoil

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  • Outdoors | DeWine restores old order to Ohio Division of Wildlife after Kasich turmoil

    By Dave Golowenski / For The Columbus Dispatch
    Posted Jul 7, 2019 at 5:00 AMUpdated Jul 7, 2019 at 11:34 AM

    There was more to the annual Governor’s Fish Ohio Day than fishing.
    After dealing for eight years with wishy-washy support and occasional hostility from the previous administration, administrators from the Ohio Division of Wildlife projected a public aura Tuesday that order has been restored.
    The occasion was the 40th anniversary of an event founded by Gov. James A. Rhodes in 1979 as a way to promote Lake Erie as a fishing destination.
    Addressing a record gathering, Gov. Mike DeWine said he was outfished by his grandchildren but did not try to take credit for the unsurpassed run of walleye fishing that began last year.
    He did, however, suggest that one of his goals has been to restore a wildlife division that had seemingly lost some mojo regarding its mission of protecting wildlife resources for the benefit of all. That was not met with dissent from the politicians, lobbyists, scientists and media types in attendance.
    The division, essentially self-funded through license and permit sales and federal excise taxes on sporting equipment, had long operated on a somewhat autonomous basis under the umbrella of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
    Under the administration of Gov. John Kasich, however, attempts were made to transform the division into a politically compliant agency. In the process, some longtime division employees with strong scientific credentials were banished to bureaucratic backwater jobs. Some promotions went to well-connected individuals with less experience or inferior qualifications.
    As DeWine campaigned to be governor, organized sportsmen’s groups told him “we want professionals running the division” of wildlife, he acknowledged, and that they wanted the incoming administration to “let the professionals do their job.”
    DeWine assured the groups he could do that. Among the professionals back in the fold (and on hand last week) were retired wildlife division chiefs Steve Gray, an ODNR assistant director, and Mike Budzik, a consultant on wildlife issues. Also brought back was Scott Hale as the division’s administrator of fisheries management.
    Mary Mertz, whom DeWine appointed as ODNR director, chose division veteran Kendra Wecker as the agency’s first non-interim female chief. Once an influential leader within the division, Wecker said she relishes her duty as the public face of the agency.
    “I especially enjoy meeting the people” who hunt, fish and are concerned about conservation and wildlife, she said. “Those people make up our constituency. They are who we work for.”
    If words like those sound too on message, reasons to doubt their sincerity in the early days of DeWine rule remain few.
    The governor cited his efforts to obtain annual funding from the legislature for what he termed a “methodical” approach to clean up the state’s waterways. Mertz told the gathering that aside from the economic engine worth millions of dollars annually provided by Lake Erie fishing, not to be overlooked is a healthy lake’s value in providing “a lot of fun.”
    Although the event had its serious undercurrents, the focus was catching fish. Plenty were caught, although not everything hooked came from the water.
    While casting for fish from one of the 24 charter boats, DeWine hooked a surveillance drone flitting about. After the untangling, the governor joined in the laughs as the mishap was made public.
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    Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. James Madison, Federalist Paper No 10