Helping Hand

One down, one to go: That’s how Buckland’s Roger Ward sees it.

First, the done deal. Anyone who’s scanned through the 2010 MassWildlife Abstracts may have noticed the $13 youth sporting license that’s available for the first time this year. If so and you wondered where it came from, thank Ward, known to his friends as “Heze,” pronounced Hezzie, short for Hezekiah, an obsolete Biblical name common throughout New England during its first 300 years. “To tell you the truth, my mother wanted to name me Hezekiah but my father wouldn’t hear of it,” said Ward, son and grandson of Hezekiahs. “For some reason, my father didn’t like the name.”

Apparently Ward’s playground pals didn’t give a hoot what his birth certificate read, because as soon as they learned his father’s name, it became his nickname, one that he’s grown fond of. So, over the years, he’s become Heze, a West County political gadfly of sorts.

But let us not digress. Back to the youth sporting license. Working on behalf of the Conway Sportsmen’s Club, Ward was the wind behind the new license’s sails. It saves youth sportsmen ages 15 to 17 a sawbuck. In the past, there was no youth sporting license, necessitating the purchase of separate hunting ($11.50) and fishing ($11.50) licenses, a $23 tab. Now that’s history thanks to Ward’s persistence and, of course, a year and a half of bureaucratic wrangling. In the books, it’s a feather in Ward’s Conway Sportsmen’s Club’s hat.

“Fewer and fewer kids hunt nowadays and we figured a cheap license might encourage them,” explained Ward. “We didn’t want cost to be an obstacle.” So now, thanks the Heze, these inexpensive licenses have become a painless annual Christmas present for parents to consider.

With the license issue behind him, Heze’s all stirred up about another initiative, one that may even convince the longtime, true-blue Democrat to vote for the other party in the next gubernatorial election. He’s upset that Gov. Patrick has laid down strict spending ceilings for state agencies, including the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The budget cap will, according to Ward, leave the division with a $17 million surplus this year. He thinks the surplus should be spent, not squirreled away, and supports his argument by pointing out that the DFW has never once run a deficit budget. Nonetheless, the agency has its hands tied from above and is unable to spend money raised exclusively for fish and wildlife expenses.

“It’s akin to someone bringing home $250 a week and the government telling them they can only spend $200 of it,” Ward explained. “It’s wrong because there’s not a penny of taxpayer money in there. It’s all dedicated funds generated from hunting and fishing licenses and fees, permits and stamps.”

The worst fear is that the $17 million surplus could be secretly funneled elsewhere, excluding the Bay State from annual federal funding provided to states that restrict such revenue only to fish and wildlife projects. If the governor decides to dip into the kitty and use even a small portion of the surplus for roads or schools or bridges, then the federal assistance is gone. End of story. Ward believes the dedicated funds should be spent where they’re meant to be spent and fears monkey business down the road in a state where funds are tight and a MassWildlife hiring freeze has been in effect for more than a year. He thinks the freeze should be lifted, the money collected from licenses and fees spent on fish and wildlife projects.

“I talked to a Patrick aide who danced around the issue and wouldn’t commit to anything,” said Ward. “If they won’t cooperate and the Republican candidate promises to leave those dedicated funds alone and spend the surplus on (DFW), I’ll support him.”

That’s coming  from a man who never thinks like a Republican, rarely votes the ticket and is entertaining serious thoughts about starting a petition drive to protect the “sacred” dedicated funds.

Remember, the money in question, when used for habitat improvement, land acquisition, or MassWildlife salaries, contributes to the enjoyment of many outdoor enthusiasts who do not hunt or fish and never will, anti-hunters among them. Included would be bird watchers, photographers, hikers, boaters and many other recreational users of our woods, waters and overgrown farms.

As usual, Ole Heze’s fighting a good fight, one for you and me, fueled by a strong dose of Yankee ethic with a shot of stubborn hill-town determination.

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