Council passes new deer regulations

Columbus — The Ohio Wildlife Council unanimously approved new deer hunting regulations for 2013-14, despite opposition from some sportsmen’s organizations and a bi-partisan group of state legislators led by Sen. Chris Widener.

Widener, a Republican from Springfield, sits on the senate’s Ways and Means Committee.

Forty-two state legislators, about a third of the entire Ohio General Assembly, signed a protest letter authored by Widener in early April.

Whitetails Unlimited and some branches of the Quality Deer Management Association, as well as the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, also opposed portions of the new rules.

Widener's letter urged Scott Zody, chief of the Ohio DNR’s wildlife division, to reconsider new regulations proposed by the agency. In specific contention were rules to trim bag limits in certain counties, eliminate urban hunting zones, abolish the extra deer gun weekend in December and set a statewide early muzzleloader season for antlerless deer during the second week of October (12 and 13).

“We’re for more (hunting) opportunities,” Widener told wildlife council members on April 17.

The group’s thumbs-up vote did not deter Widener.

The senator said he will continue to fight when the DNR submits the rules to the legislature’s Joint Committee for Agency Rule Review (JCARR) for final approval. Widener said a majority of JCARR members signed his letter.

Widener and Sen. Frank LaRose, an Akron Republican who sits on JCARR, came to the April 17 meeting equipped with charts and numbers to back up their opposition. Those charts showed deer populations well above target in many southern and eastern counties. They also cited the $859 million annual economic impact of deer hunting in Ohio.

But the DNR stood firm on its recommendations to the council.

Dave Kohler, administrator of wildlife management, explained methods used by the agency to manage Ohio’s deer herd. He said maximizing recreational opportunities for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, while minimizing vehicle crashes and crop damage, is a delicate balance.

Season types, dates and hunting method are tools for managing deer herds. Bag limits are not as effective, Kohler said.

He cited statistics that showed 73 percent of Ohio hunters kill one deer per season, while 19 percent take two deer. Less than 5 percent kill three or more.

Deer biologist Mike Tonkovich acknowledged deer populations are above target in many areas.

However, numbers began trending downward in 2007 after bag limits in those counties increased to six deer. In addition, hunters now report longer times afield before killing a deer.

Council member Paul Mechling, a veterinarian, noted local deer numbers could drop 10 to 20 percent if disease strikes. Council member Stephen Seliskar encouraged a “faster and farther” approach to monitoring the state herd.

Horace Karr, an often outspoken council member, took personal aim at Widener.

“Do you think you can manage wildlife better than experts?” Karr asked the legislator. “We now have more game than ever. That’s because of these (DNR) people.”

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