Senator opposes deer rule changes
Columbus — State Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, has launched an effort to stop a number of changes to Ohio’s hunting regulations that the DNR has proposed.
And Widener, who has penned a pair of letters to top DNR brass in the past few weeks, has been critical of both specific proposals, namely the elimination of the state’s late deer gun season, and the way the agency has followed the rule-changing process.
Ohio DNR’s office of communications offered the following statement in response to this story:
“When making decisions regarding rule changes, ODNR focuses on using the best science and research available to provide the most opportunities for hunters in Ohio. To follow our longstanding rulemaking process, the Division of Wildlife listened to all interested parties online and at public meetings across the state. Also following procedure, ODNR’s Division of Wildlife will take the proposals to the
Ohio Wildlife Council, who will have the opportunity to weigh-in and offer advice before any final decision is made.
In his first letter, addressed to DNR Director James Zehringer on April 7, Widener wrote, “I can honestly say the process and the decisions contained therein lack ‘due process’ and public input, and many of the proposed rules have no scientific basis.”
Widener questioned the timing of the DNR filing its proposed rule changes to Ohio’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review on the day after the hunting season closed, Feb. 4.
“Thus, the kills from the past season could not have been fully tabulated before new changes were proposed,” Widener wrote.
Widener then accused the DNR of not responding to public feedback after several open houses were held around the state on March 2.
In a phone interview with Ohio Outdoor News, Widener repeated his claim that no changes were made to the rules based on public feedback.
“I believe the DNR ought to be in the business of making changes based on public input from sportsmen and hunters around the state of Ohio,” he said. “Hundreds of sportsmen have put in written comments and have spoken, yet the agency has shown no willingness to make any changes. That doesn’t go over well with legislators or sportsmen.”
Widener addressed his most recent letter to DNR Division of Wildlife Chief Scott Zody on April 10, and nine other state senators and 16 members of the Ohio House of Representatives signed on.
Widener is opposed to eliminating the state’s two-day gun season in late December. To replace that hunt, the state has proposed creating an antlerless-only muzzleloader hunting season in October.
“I’ve been hunting my whole life,” Widener said. “I’m not for two fewer days of opportunity to swap for a weekend in October. If they want to go forward with a muzzleloading season in October, that’s fine, but I’m not for taking away December opportunities. They don’t have to swap it.”
Widener also opposed more restrictive changes in bag limits for 13 counties in southern and southeastern Ohio (where the limit would drop from six deer to two or three), suggesting that the DNR’s reasoning was based off of anecdotes rather than science.
“I have not seen any science that would suggest that’s where we need to go,” Widener said. “I see no reason to drop the bag limits in half. The only reason I have heard from (the DNR) is we hear from hunters that we’re seeing fewer deer. I don’t believe that’s a scientific approach. And I’ve heard the complete opposite from people in one of those counties.”
Widener also opposed the elimination of urban deer hunts and the special early muzzleloader deer hunts.
“The prevalence of deer-related accidents in urban areas necessitates increased hunting pressures in these areas to thin the herd,” Widener wrote, suggesting expansion of archery hunting opportunities.
Regarding the elimination of special muzzleloader hunts at Salt Fork, Wildcat Hollow, and Shawnee areas, Widener wrote, “The importance of these muzzleloader hunting opportunities is not adequately outweighed by the creation of a separate antlerless deer muzzleloader season.”
The fate of the DNR’s proposed hunting regulation changes were unclear before press time.
While Widener had spent the previous week rounding up support ahead of an April 17 meeting of the Ohio Wildlife Council, he was hopeful that changes could be made.
In his letter to Zehringer, however, he worried that the changes were already a done deal.
“And since the rules would have already been approved by JCARR, I suspect the council will simply be left to rubber stamp the rules and be told they can’t be changed because JCARR has approved them,” Widener said.