16 WMAs, Trout Hatchery And Up To 30 WRD Positions On The Chopping Block

DNR's proposed budget cuts await a decision by Governor's Office of Planning and Budget.

Daryl Kirby | October 28, 2008

Budget cuts and the resulting loss of services are nothing new to sportsmen. Most years, cuts have been in the 3 percent range, but a sour economy and dipping state revenues could result in 10 percent cuts this year and next.

The budget cuts are applicable to every state agency, including DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) and its Game Management, Fisheries and Law Enforcement sections.

The governor’s office asked all state agencies to submit proposed budget reductions of 6, 8 and 10 percent. WRD recommended a list of what it considered the least-painful programs, services and positions to cut. That list went to its parent agency, DNR, which then decided on 42 proposed cuts — eight from WRD — that were forwarded the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (OPB).

“At this point, OPB is trying to decide how this cut list best goes together,” said WRD Assistant Director Todd Holbrook. “We really don’t know what’s going to be cut, and we haven’t been told when.”

The cut list from DNR includes items from each of its sections in a prioritized list. Even cuts not attributed to WRD will impact sportsmen. No. 1 on the DNR cut list is a Parks Division cut; $25,000 to manage aquatic vegetation at Little Ocmulgee State Park. The No. 2 cut is also listed as a Parks cut, no boat ramp for Bear Creek, a Jackson County water-supply reservoir stocked with F1 bass by the Fisheries Section. No. 17 on the list is an EPD cut of three law-enforcement positions from the Solid Waste Trust Fund — these are actually conservation ranger positions.

The top-priority WRD cut (most likely to be cut) is construction of a campground at Berry College WMA.

The next WRD cut that will impact sportsmen is the elimination of 15 positions — six wildlife technicians, four fisheries technicians and five conservation rangers. These 15 vacant positions were added at the beginning of the year as part of the governor’s package, but the positions had not been filled. They would have been designated for work on WMAs.

“The hiring freeze went in place. We never hired them or filled the positions, so we’re cutting something that was never put in place,” Holbrook said. “This one is a big deal though because you have an awful lot of demand for services on public land.”

As the cut list moves down the priority scale, the programs and services become much more critical to sportsmen. No. 26 on DNR’s cut list is pulling state employees and management from 16 WMAs operated on federal lands, including WMAs on corps land. While these lands will likely be open to hunting under state seasons, the quality of hunting wouldn’t be the same. A comparison would be the quality of deer hunting at Cedar Creek WMA and what is found on general, open national-forest land nearby. Food plots, managed hunts, dove fields — WRD would no longer have a hand in this type of management.

The WMAs on the cut list are: Blue Ridge, Cedar Creek, Chattahoochee, Chestatee, Clarks Hill, Cohutta, Coopers Creek, John’s Mountain, Lake Burton, Lake Russell, Lake Seminole, Redlands, Rich Mountain, Swallow Creek, Warwoman and West Point.

No. 34 on the list is the closure of Burton Trout Hatchery, which would reduce trout stocking by 31 percent.

Last on the list, at No. 42, is the elimination of from nine to 22 conservation rangers. These are filled positions, not unfilled vacancies.

The complete list of proposed DNR cuts can be found at GON’s website <>.

Holbrook said he doesn’t expect everything on the cut list to be axed by OPB, nor does he expect everything to be spared.

“It’s impossible for me to imagine that under these incredible economic times that we’re not going to get something cut,” Holbrook said.

The frustration for sportsmen grows through every round of budget cuts because we pay our own way through license fees — money collected by the state through a myriad of required stamps, tags and licenses.

Money generated from license fees and federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment pay for almost 80 percent of the budgets for Game Management, Fisheries and Law Enforcement each year, yet they continue to be cut.

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