Editorial-Opinion March 2005

Steve Burch | March 1, 2005

There is a Catch 22 going on. We need to understand it, and fix it.

The catch is that politicians are working at cross purposes regarding hunting, and we are in the middle of a political crossfire that will likely leave us the only victim if we don’t act.

Last week, the Georgia Senate passed a resolution to amend the state’s constitution to protect hunting and fishing. The question may be voted on by all the people of the state in November, 2006.

Also last week, a member of the Georgia House of Representatives offered a bill that would keep open bow season in 16 counties around Atlanta through February of each year.

Some politicians value hunting.

Now, let’s zoom in to Roswell where that city council is seeking to end hunting of any sort in their city. Their ordinance could ban the discharge of anything, including a bow, based on public safety. Their real purpose is to end hunting, and the ordinance will likely pass.

About 35 miles east of Roswell is the new, passive-use, 1,800-acre Harbin Park astride the Alcovy River on the Gwinnett/Walton County line.

Last year, Gwinnett County parks called a public meeting to receive input from the public on how the public would like to see the land used, and to identify people who would serve on a stakeholder group to help guide and direct the development of the property.

During the course of the meeting, four user-groups were identified; horse-back riders, mountain bikers, ATV riders, and hunters. Hunters were the most numerous.

The stakeholder advisory board has been selected by the park planners and no hunters were selected to serve.

So, down at the state capitol, legislators are working to expand and protect hunting, while at the local level, elected officials and their agents are working to constrict and prohibit hunting — Catch 22.

What should be done?

The first thing is to notice what is missing. Conspicuous by its absence is our voice at the decision-making table.

Did the Senate ask hunters about a Constitutional amendment?

The House member who proposed extending bow season mentioned one small group with 38 members who wanted extra bowhunting time.

Roswell hasn’t reached out for information or alternatives, and Gwinnett found a reason to exclude hunters from the group of stakeholders.

The troubling Catch 22 for sportsmen is that neither the folks who want to help us nor those who want to hurt us want to talk to us. The danger is that we have no voice, no vote, no representation in the process

Why not?

Usually, we aren’t asked. By example, next week, I will attend a meeting of stakeholders in Macon who want to control 180,000 acres of land along the Altamaha, Oconee, and Ocmulgee rivers including Piedmont NWR and all of the Oconee National Forest. The original plan called for the land to become a national park.  There is no hunting allowed on national parks. We stopped that, but now they are talking about a national preserve. They already have had two meetings; November and December. I knew nothing about these meetings until January. I had to invite myself to this third February meeting.

So how do we end not being invited to meetings? We invite ourselves.

Also, we aren’t asked to these meetings because we don’t show up. It is true. We are not good at policy engagement before something happens, but we excel at asking, “Well, why’d they do that?” after the fact.

When we are invited, we have to show up and be a part of the process.

Wise observers have often noted that if you don’t show up, you don’t count. We are doing a little better in the show-up department, still nothing  to brag about, but we are improving.

Becoming organized, informed and active it the only way to deal with our current Catch 22 situation.

We are making a start. We are at the capitol, at Roswell, at Gwinnett, at the DNR Board meetings and at this Ocmulgee River meeting.

To be effective in these meetings, we need to expand our efforts — put more men on the job. GONetwork Sportsmen Senators are beginning to make that expansion now. I hope you will join and support them as they begin to take a seat at these tables and give sportsmen a voice… your voice.

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