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03-21-03: Wildlife may get its own area
The Daily Standard
    The Grand Lake St. Marys area is one of the most important places in Ohio for wildlife, and wildlife officials are interested in establishing a wildlife area here if they can find the right land at the right price.
    That was the message delivered by Steve Gray, the new chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, during Thursday's Wildlife Summit IV held at Wright State University-Lake Campus. Gray also talked about new efforts to promote fishing and hunting to the younger generation.
    The event is sponsored by the Lake Development Corporation, a non-profit local lobbying group that tries to gain improvements around the lake and surrounding area. Local and state government officials, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and several area conservation and hunting groups attended.
    Gray said the division wants to do a better job in acquiring public lands for hunting and fishing through establishing metro parks and doing joint ventures with private organizations across the state.
    "Currently Ohio ranks 47th in the nation per capita for land acquisition," Gray said. "That's not very good. That means there are only three states worse than us."
    Gray said the two biggest obstacles to finding land for a wildlife area in the Grand Lake St. Marys area is the type of land needed is less available and the high cost.
    "Most of our holdings over the last 10 years has been buying old reclaimed coal mine areas, but those have been in the east and southern part of the state," Gray said. "We'd like to do more here on the lake or away from the lake."
    Gray encouraged those attending Thursday's summit to help the division attain its goal of finding land for a wildlife area.
    Fish Management Supervisor Doug Maloney announced the division plans to stock 720,000 walleye fingerlings measuring about 1 3/4 inches long in the lake this year. He also predicted anglers should begin catching walleye from the lake this year measuring 12 to 15 inches long, older fish that have grown since previous stockings.
    This will be the fifth year walleye has been stocked in the lake and the third year fingerlings - which have a better survival rate than fry - will be stocked. The first two years just walleye fry, which measure 3/16 of an inch long, were stocked.
    The division plans to continue stocking walleye fingerlings only in Grand Lake for the time being, he said. Since the stocking program began in 1999, the division of wildlife has stocked almost 52 million walleye in the lake.
    Maloney said fishing on Grand Lake this year should be better than last year, which he described as "dismal."
    Crappie fishing was disappointing, early large mouth bass fishing was "pitiful" and perch fishing also was not good, and they were skinny, Maloney said of last year.
    However, catfish fishing continued to be good all year round, and the large mouth bass fishing got better later in the year, he said.
    Maloney attributed the lousy fishing to Mother Nature and hatch rates, both which affect the abundance of fish in all Ohio lakes and rivers. Statistics kept by the division statewide show that from one year to the next, fish populations can decrease by one half or more.
    "Hatch strength drives it all," he said. "Some years you get a good hatch and some years you don't."
    This year Maloney predicted "not too good" crappie fishing and good catfish and bass fishing. He wasn't sure about the yellow perch fishing.
    The officials also told the group at the summit the division is stepping up its marketing efforts to stop a decline in the number of people hunting and fishing in the state, Gray said.
    During the last 30 years there has been a slow, long-term decline in the number of people hunting in Ohio, and during recent years, there also has been a decline in fishing.
    Gray said the division is using different programs to retain existing hunters and anglers and to gain a new generation.
    "We are planning special seasons for hunters this year and we'll do all we can to get young kids interested in fishing," Gray said. "The average age of a person buying a fishing license is 41. They are aging. We need to have younger people replacing them so the conservation movement can continue."
    Maloney said the division of wildlife is trying to promote fishing in Ohio by improving access to state waters by building new fishing piers and boat launch areas, producing maps with more accurate water depths using new global positioning satellite (GPS) technology, and strategically marketing to lapsed and new returning fishing license buyers.
    "We need to start focusing our attention on these people to retain customers," Maloney said."Any person in business will tell you it's easier to retain customers than create them out of mid air."
    Maloney said the marketing message is critical, noting the division has switched its focus from advertising its product, such as prize-winning sized fish, to advertising how to meet customer needs, particularly how they relate to building lasting family memories and bonds.
    Maloney showed a poster of a smiling little girl resting her chin on her hands and a message written above her reading, "Take me fishing because my wedding will be sooner than you think."
    The new marketing efforts are working, Maloney said, noting that for the first time in 14 years, statistics showed the number of residential fishing licenses sold in Ohio increased.


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