On July 17th, Gov. Mike DeWine signed a budget bill into law that includes a number conservation victories which the Ohio Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has been fighting for since Ohio BHA became a chapter in May 2018.
The Ohio BHA Chapter executed a successful communication campaign to make sure key legislators, committees, and decision makers heard our voice in support of public lands and waters. This included action alerts, email and phone campaigns, gatherings at the statehouse during hearings and votes, testimony delivered by OH BHA board members Tony Ruffing and Benton Collins, and much more.
Thankfully, many of our requests for funding made it into the final budget package. By emphasizing that the conservation initiatives affected nearly every citizen — kids using the playground at a local park, hunters and anglers, runners, canoers, morel pickers, and hikers — we were able to gain broad bipartisan support.
A couple details on key items that are included, and that we vocally supported:
- Modest License Increases (fishing, turkey and whitetail permits) - These increases will generate an estimated $40 million to help close the budget shortfall currently experienced by the Division of Wildlife. We have a fantastic DOW, full of great men and women. These license increases will go a long way to help them reach their goals.
- Maintaining Public Access to the AEP ReCreation Lands – We were at risk of losing public access to almost 55,000 acres of land that many Ohioans hunt, fish, horseback ride, hike, UTV, and camp on. Over the years, the ReCreation Lands had become a staple source of opportunity for sportsmen and women across the state.
The property was at risk of being sold, putting all public access to the 55,000 acres in jeopardy. The budget included $47 million earmarked for the acquisition of the remaining acreage, and a potential expansion of the Jesse Owens State Park and Wildlife Area. This is a huge victory for all of us!
Beyond the successes in the Budget Bill, keeping AEP public became a rallying cry for the Ohio BHA Board, and our members. As a young chapter, this was our first big issue we fought for in the state, we learned a lot, made great relationships with ODNR and DOW leadership, and key legislators across the State. They know we are a young, diverse, powerful voice who will put boots and the ground and show up when it matters.
We look forward to the next fight.