Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Field trial sites, or the lack thereof, creates stir among some sportsmen

Kirtland, Ohio – Joe Aveni of Kirtland believes the DNR Division
of Wildlife is as stubborn as a mule in not allowing field trial
training with the assistance of horses on select public wildlife
areas.

Dennis Meinke of Trumbull Township in Ashtabula County agrees.
Meinke is active in Northeast Ohio’s field trial arena.

Both men believe the wildlife division’s new policy regarding
field trials, dog training grounds, and the use of horses seriously
impacts training and preparation. Among the properties where policy
changes will occur is the 7,140-acre Grand River Wildlife Area in
Trumbull County.

The lack of dog-training opportunities at Grand River and the
stoppage of field trial opportunities at the 8,208-acre Berlin
Wildlife Area in Stark County will hamper those sportsmen who train
bird dogs and use them for field trials, let alone those who do so
on horseback, according to Aveni.

The Berlin dog-training site also will allow disabled
individuals to use electric motorized vehicles, which Aveni
believes is another potential conflict with dog trainers.

Field trials are allowed on designed state wildlife areas only
during March, April, September and October. The training of dogs on
designated state-owned land is open year-round.

“It makes it hard for the amateur to compete. I’m paying for
this through my taxes and license fees, and this is a
hunting-related activity,” Aveni said.

Grand River was one of the few places where Meinke said he could
go and exercise both his horse and his pointing dogs.

“It’s tough to find private property with a couple of hundred
acres where I can train both,” Meinke said.

For its part, the wildlife division said the new policy helps,
rather than hurts, field trial activities and the training of bird
dogs.

“We needed a state-wide standard for field trials and training
grounds because each Wildlife District had its own plans,” said
agency Assistant Chief Jim Marshall.

The change got started at the massive 8,626-acre Killdeer Plains
Wildlife Area in Wyandot County. Here, the wildlife division
groomed a large swath for the conducting of field trials,
particularly with the aid of horses.

However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in,
threatening to shut off federal dollars unless the activity was
halted. That is because Killdeer Plains is designed more for
wetland species.

The property is also home to several threatened and endangered
species, among them the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

The fear, both the Fish and Wildlife Service and wildlife
division said, was field trials were incompatible with the area’s
core wetland mission.

Marshall added some field trial practitioners even thought they
had exclusive use of the set-aside areas, though “that was never
the case.”

“There is no obligation on our part to (host) field trials,”
Marshall said.

Jennifer Windus, an agency program administrator, said ending
the duel allowance will help keep conflicts between field trial
enthusiasts and bird dog trainers at a minimum.

Ohio has 12 dog training areas in the state and five field trial
areas.

“And most of our dog training grounds were acquired with some
federal funds, and so the Fish and Wildlife Service said the use of
horses on these grounds is incompatible with what the land was
intended for,” Windus said.

To further accommodate the field trial community, the wildlife
division has set aside a portion of the 15,183-acre Tri-Valley
Wildlife Area in Muskingum County for field trial use, including
with the aid of horses.

Tri-Valley has been groomed for that use, including the building
of a field trial headquarters.

These amenities were placed in such a way and built in such a
manner they won’t threaten the receiving of federal
aid-to-restoration dollars, collected on the sale of ammunition and
firearms, which are then distributed to states, according to
Marshall.

The permit to use this new facility costs $185 per day. But
Aveni said the Tri-Valley facility is poorly designed and makes
even turning a horse trailer around a difficult chore, though he
acknowledges the wildlife division is still working on the
site.

“I ran at Tri-Valley last year. It’s better than nothing, but
you’re not even allowed on the grounds until 4 p.m. the day before
the trial and must leave at the end of the trial,” Aveni said.
“That makes it difficult for out-of-state field trialers.”

Dave Scott, the wildlife division’s wildlife management
administrator, said the agency is not trying to abolish field
trials or dog training. The agency is just trying to clarify the
rules and prevent the layering of interests.

Scott added if field trialers or dog trainers need another plot
of ground, the agency will look at the situation on a case-by-case
basis.

“Clearly, what we are trying to do is get horse use under
control at wildlife areas. We’re trying to accommodate those who
are still not satisfied,” Windus said. “If they come up with a
proposal that meets the federal guidelines, then we’re open to
their suggestions, but we haven’t seen any yet.”

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