MOUNT VERNON — Knox County Wildlife Officer Mike Miller will soon have another set of eyes and ears to help deal with wildlife damage complaints in the county.
The Knox County Soil & Water Conservation District was selected for a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife to help fund a position. Jarrod Hittle, who is a graduate of The Ohio State University and an urban conservation specialist with the KWSWD since June 2008, will be assuming management of the program.
“This is kind of a passion for me; I love to hunt, fish and deal with wildlife,” said Hittle. “I enjoy working with the public, so I just thought this would be great. Kind of like a hobby turned into a job, I guess.”
The program, started in 2001, will help alleviate some of the backlog for Miller all the while providing funding for the district. It is a seven-year program, which starts with 75 percent of Hittle’s salary being funded by the ODNR the first year. It is funded on a sliding scale over the remaining years.
“The way this came about was the Division of Wildlife started funding the soil and water specialist positions to help wildlife officers answer wildlife damage complaints,” said Miller. “There are duties that we don’t necessarily have time to do, but they would be good to do as a cooperative effort between the division and the soil and water districts. They have good relationships with private property owners and producers in the counties.
“The opportunity came about for Knox County to apply for a position about a month and a half ago. The division looked at it and decided to fund the position. Knox County was chosen out of several counties because of the large number of deer damage complaints in particular, and Jarrod was hired to fill that position.
“The hope was by putting an extra body out there, it would help with wildlife damage complaints, which has been a growing problem for the division, and put someone else out there to help publicize all of the programs that we offer — like the (conservation reserve) programs, the cp33 (Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds) programs, whip (Wildlife Habitat Incentives) programs and other programs that are beneficial to wildlife. This position can help us promote some of those activities.”
The program has proven very beneficial for the Division of Wildlife, which is why Knox County was chosen. Miller has increasingly spent a large chunk of hours each year dealing with damage complaints, and that has taken away from some other duties.
“This will free up about 600 man-hours of work for me each year. That’s how much time I spend on deer-damage complaints alone in the county,” said Miller. “Those man-hours will be able to be spent with other law enforcement duties and other things that crop up. It will free me up to do a lot of things that I used to do before we had all of the damage complaints. Six hundred hours is a lot of time to work on other projects and responsibilities.”
The position will also be beneficial to the soil and water district, which like every other county agency, has had to deal with some financial cuts.
“This will help us continue to build landowner relationships,” said Miller. “The soil and water district already has excellent relationships in the county, so this will help them meet other people that they normally don’t deal with, and it will help us utilize their relationships. It also brings additional funding to the county.
“This is beneficial for the county since it has been having some financial difficulties. It helps bring revenue in, while helping the division. It is a mutual benefit.”
The bulk of Hittle’s duties will be handling the wildlife complaints, though he will still have duties which come from his position with the soil and water district.
“He will take over most of the complaints — deer damage, Canada goose, coyote and black vulture,” said Miller. “He will also be able to help answer calls from the public about other nuisance calls about wildlife. He is just another resource for people to call concerning wildlife and damage. He will also be able to work with our other programs like our Wild Ohio school program. ... I won’t be completely out of it. Jarrod and I will be working closely together on certain projects, especially during peak times. It has really turned out to be a win-win for both of us.”
“I am still going to be working some for the soil and water conservation district, but some of my duties are being reassigned,” Hittle said. “This is not a whole lot different from what I’ve done in the past. The permit process is sort of similar; it is more paperwork than what it typically would be.
“I’m very excited; I’m ready to go,” added Hittle. “This is something that really interests me, and I’ve been looking forward to since I heard we got it. I can’t wait to work with Mike and hit the ground running. Right now, I’m working with Mike and learning the ropes. I plan on taking over the program by the end of February.”