Editorial-Opinion December 2005

State parks should be managed. And hunted.

Steve Burch | December 4, 2005

The results of the first deer hunt at Hard Labor Creek State Park are in, and these results are both stunning and depressing.

The results are simple. In only two days of hunting, 207 hunters took 214 deer. As stunning as those results are, the story is actually even more incredible.

The number of hunters was dramatically down on the second day of the hunt. Consequently, the magnitude of the deer taken the first day is even greater than the raw numbers suggest.

Hunter-success rate at Hard Labor is 104 percent. To put this in some perspective, the highest hunter-success rate on any other WMA hunt in this decade is just over 70 percent and that was on a three-day hunt on an island.

So the numbers suggest this was  a great hunt. But the hunters did not think so. Shooting semi-tame animals, regardless of their species, is not hunting to most hunters. I believe hunting will start to improve on Hard Labor Creek State Park as hunter success drops to reasonable levels.

So the good news is that progress is being made on this tract of land, and sportsmen are participating and enjoying recreation.

There will be another hunt at the park in January of this year. But after that, the only other hunt scheduled is for January of 2007.

It is hard to imagine that one hunt on a 6,000-acre tract can do enough to cut a herd back into its carrying capacity that it can be maintained into the future by only one hunt a year, a two-day hunt, to be held in January.

There are no plans to have this November hunt at Hard Labor Creek State Park again.

The depressing part of this story is the continued scientific hypocracy on the part of DNR.

While I agree that it is good that we are at least now hunting on a state park — something that should have occurred years ago — it is depressing to have the concerns about the mismanagement of state land confirmed in so dramatic a way. There can be no doubt that any piece of Piedmont Georgia land were 207 hunters can take 214 deer in two days is being grossly mismanaged.

By whom is this land being mismanaged? If it is by Parks, then DNR leadership needs to insist that the speed of reform of wildlife management be increased.

WRD recommended that Parks conduct two hunts in each of these two years and that more hunters be allowed on each of the hunts. Why did Parks reject that recommendation? Why were they permitted to reject it?

Additionally, Parks has no plans to initiate deer management at any of its other properties where similar mismanagement is going forward.

The results at Hard Labor Creek State Park support and even clamor for a dramatic increase in the rate of reform by State Parks.

I often hear support for “the professionals” to make wildlife-management decisions. Most sportsmen support that position. So most sportsmen are surprised and disappointed to find that the DNR Board does not support the same premise. Yet deer managers within DNR have been calling for reform at Parks for years, only to be muzzled by an interagency turf battle that has penalized wildlife, degraded habitat, increased deer/car collisions, denied sportsmen recreation and denied the needy a lack of donated venison. And all of this has been tolerated by the DNR Board.

Clearly, there are only losers due to Park’s current foot-dragging, and the DNR Board should not tolerate this continued wildlife mismanagement.

But the problem goes even deeper for sportsmen and deer.

Much of Parks new land was purchased by sportsmen. Consequently, the land we purchased is being controlled by managers who reject the skill and experience of deer managers we support financially. And Parks has no plans to expand its efforts to control deer and husband wildlife habitat on any of its other properties.

By failing in its duty to manage land, Parks does sportsmen another disservice. People who live around these unhunted, unmanaged state parks suffer from deer over-population and complain to their elected officials who then go to WRD and ask that WRD do something to correct the deer problem. WRD raises the statewide deer limit on sportsmen but does nothing to raise the limit on Parks. And that is depressing.

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