Editorial-Opinion September 2005

Baiting, WRD budget cuts could be coming for Georgia sportsmen.

Steve Burch | September 5, 2005

Hunting season in Georgia is just beginning this year and we should note this beginning because this may be last time hunting season begins this way again.

There is a House study committee holding hearings about whether hunting over feed carried to the field is legal for deer.

If it is legal for deer, then I assume it will be equally legal to hunt every other non-migratory game species over feed as well.

Any changes in the law will almost certainly begin by next hunting season. Consequently, this may be the last time we open a hunting season not hunting over feed/bait.

Add to that the just-released intention of DNR to unequally slash WRD funds, a move that will close fish hatcheries, eliminate more conservation rangers, and close as many as 12 WMAs.

Finally, next year is an election year and our legislative leaders have seen fit to place a constitutional amendment that appears to protect hunting and fishing on the November 2006 General Election ballot. Whether it does protect hunting and fishing or not is another editorial.

Suffice to say that there is much going on in Georgia that can affect our future. Consequently, the hunting and fishing landscape might look much different a year from now than it does as this season begins.

How should we react to these situations and what should we do?

Regarding the legalization of hunting deer over bait or feed, GONetwork is conducting surveys of sportsmen like you. There are polls to be voted on and GON will be carrying the results of this effort as we move from now to the legislative session next January. The January GON cover will carry a ballot on the question. There are some who claim to represent the voice of sportsmen in this state who think I am doing a disservice to you by asking you how you feel on this question. I have to assume that they also think it would be wrong to ask you your opinion on any other question involving hunting or fishing regulations. I disagree with those views. I think your voice should be heard, not stymied.

So the first thing I think we need to be doing is to make our voices heard. I encourage you to go the GONetwork website and participate.

We also need to become involved in decisions about how our money is spent. We have all heard the stories about tight budgets at DNR. At the DNR Board meeting last week, the budget proposals were approved. In digesting their preliminary numbers, it appears that sportsmen are once again taking the brunt of the cuts, unfairly. Three more conservation ranger positions are being lost and perhaps as many as 12 WMAs are on the block. Meanwhile, other parts of DNR are not being cut at all.

Further, the recommended budget money to be added back to DNR’s budget ignores sportsmen. Are our sportsmen’s dollars being hijacked for other purposes? It appears so. GON will report more comprehensively next month. More insidious and of greater concern is the realization that the hijackers are not the politicians, but rather the leadership of DNR itself.

This is not a new phenomenon. But it is one that has now reached the point that sportsmen must either address and correct these financial issues or stop expecting professional support for programs of interest to sportsmen.

I do not believe we should stop expecting support from the professionals who work so diligently for sportsmen and women and the game and fish programs in this state. Rather, I think they are deserving of a greater level of support for the programs that they, as well as we, cherish in this state.

The proposed budget plan will essentially end food plots on federal lands in the mountains. If you think you can’t find a game warden when you need one now, cut another three and don’t add back any. In the past five years, the manpower in that area is seriously reduced while other pro- grams are expanding significantly.

A constitutionally amendment to protect a recreation that the state is taking money from seems a real governmental Catch 22, but that does seem where we are headed. I think that now is the time sportsmen should begin to think about changing our heading.

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