Editorial-Opinion May 2016

Shoal Bass Bill add-on shows need for clarity, comment and discussion on important issues.

Steve Burch | May 12, 2016

The “Shoal Bass Bill” failed to pass on the last day of the Georgia legislative session. What that means is that there will be no hunting or fishing license fee increase this fall. You’ll have to see last month’s editorial to follow how oddly this political football bounced.

It also means there will be another license fee increase bill introduced next January. Asking sportsmen to pay more brings up some very interesting questions—these are questions that have been asked often during GON’s almost three decades, but they are rarely answered with any specificity.

The big unanswered question for WRD is what plans they have for increased funds. I think this time, these questions need to asked and answered if the next license fee increase bill is to be successful.

Over the next several months with your help, we are going to try to refine some questions and attempt to understand how funds flow through to WRD, and back out again.

There are two primary reasons for addressing this issue now.

1) License fee increases are fairly rare, and on the occasion of asking for such increases, that agency is more forth-coming and open about its operations and its plans for  the future, and…

2) When a new governor takes office in 2019, we could easily have a new DNR commissioner, WRD director and LED director. It is better to work with people we know now, rather than wonder what might happen with new, unknown people.

Then the question becomes, what are we working with. How much money, and how is it spent?

There are basically two large sources of funds coming into what most sportsmen think of as “Game and Fish.” There are license fees and federal dollars from us being specially taxed. Taken together, this is more than $60 million dollars a year, and it varies by year.

There are problems with the way I just presented this income, and I want to mention them now so I am not misleading anyone. The first problem is that Game and Fish is not Game and Fish. It is Wildlife Resources (WRD), meaning that the Nongame Section is a part of that pile of money. How much of a part has always been a mystery to me.

The second problem is that Law Enforcement is no longer a part of Game and Fish, per se. Not long ago, in a big internal fight that had been brewing for years, the law enforcement function of game and fish management was removed from control of Wildlife Resources Division and is now its own separate Law Enforcement Division. So today, if you look at WRD’s budget over the past five years, you are not dealing with apples to apples if you compare just WRD then and now. The amount of money coming in can be determined. That is the simple part.

The next two issues are important, and they are more difficult.

Trying to figure out where and how the money is spent has always been a challenge. You might think it would be simple, but it isn’t. Yet it does seem logical that if you can’t know where you are spending current money, it might be hard to plan where to spend new money. I have no idea what we are going to find as we begin to look into this issue. I know that we can share with you the responses we receive from those who control these funds. I also know we can take your questions and present them to our wildlife leaders. It is not unusual for me to receive responses that are somehow less informative than I might have hoped. But we can certainly be a repository for questions and publish the responses.

The second and perhaps more interesting area of inquiry deals with what they are not spending money on. If they had more money, what would they spend it on?

If you were making those decisions, on what would you spend additional sportsmen’s funds?

It is your money.

How do you feel about agreeing to an increase without knowing how that money from your pocket is going to benefit you and the state’s wildlife?

There are many money questions.

Over the next several months, GON will be working with WRD, with LED, and with you. We want to better understand the challenges and the opportunities before us all.

Hopefully, this license increase process can be a time for better understanding and better cooperation for sportsmen, for our agencies, and ultimately, for the wildlife we all love.

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