Editorial-Opinion August 2005

Steve Burch | August 6, 2005

There has been a small earthquake in northwest Georgia that may have a significant impact on deer hunting all over Georgia. The old Inland and Bowater timber lands are now under management by Timberland Investment Resources. They are leaseing the tracts to the highest bidder. This is a new and very unsettling change to Georgia hunters.

In a letter sent to former leaseholders, Timberland informed these leaseholders that all of the land would be leased on an internet bid basis to the highest bidder, and that the lease would run for only one year. This process is used to lease approximately 70,000 acres of land to some 240 hunting clubs. This year, some of the tracts to be leased are less than 100 acres.

The online bidding process began on July 25, one week after the notice was sent to leaseholders. The bidding ends on August 8.

The sketchy information in the notice sent from the company raised the worst fears of hunters. It seemed that their traditional hunting land would be leased to the highest bidder, eBay style, and that next year the process would be repeated. It seemed that the company was wholesale eliminating the traditional landowner/hunter relationship of longterm stewardship of the land.

GON‘s phone was ringing from concerned sportsmen in north Georgia. And GON started ringing a few phones. I reached Gary Allred, Director of Forest Operations for the company, late on Friday afternoon, July 21; the last business day before the auction was to begin.

“We don’t have a public announcement we are ready to make yet because the program is not yet completed,” he began.

When challenged about the fact the the website and letter sent to lease holders already had established public notice, he admitted that the development of the website and its process were behind in development, and he was unsure of exactly how they planned to deal with each issue.

However, he did indicate that the company only wished to deal with, and had only notified, previous leaseholders of the invitation to bid.

“We did not mean for this to go public,” Allred said. “The relationship between us and our license holders is a very important one to us. Raising lease fees to the highest bidder is not our goal here,” he assured.

This event is the latest in a continuing series of land-use changes and management shifts that will continue to impact sportsmen.

The rapid sell-off of Weyerhaeuser land including the gutting of Ocmulgee and Oaky Woods WMA are the most visible example of these changes, but there are others. For instance, last week, International Paper announced its intention to sell all of its industrial lands in Georgia. Add to that the recent announcements of two vast residential/mixed use development tracts in portions of west Georgia, one of 19,000 acres and a second of 11,000 acres and, the situation with Timberland Investments Resources can be viewed in context. Industrial timber land in Georgia is melting away.

This change in land-use will mean that hunters will have to devise new strategies and new tools to retain access to hunting opportunities.

Last issue, we ran a primer on buying your own land. In this issue, GONetwork is announcing its Urban Hunting Program, the first plank in a major hunter-access program. GONetwork intends to take a lead role in making sure that hunters will have a place to hunt.

Hunting will have to be viewed as an acceptable role in the daily management and use of these properties. Already, planners are beginning to incorporate this reality into their forecasts for property use. Nationally, the swing in public opinion is to be a responsible caretaker of wildlife, and that includes hunting without endangering persons, personal property or the environment. Since deer herds unfettered by management damage the environment and pose a public-safety risk, the old notion of exiling hunting to “the country” has passed. Now we are dealing with a new hunting club structure. GONetwork is tackling the hunter-access issue, including the creation of programs to capitalize on the growing public approval of the important role hunters will play in the current and future management of suburban open land and greenspace.

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