Are WMAs About To Be Changed To Recreation Areas?

Public meetings seek comment on DNR proposal to rename WMAs to make them more marketable to other users. Public meetings are next week.

Daryl Kirby | May 12, 2010

If your favorite wildlife management area (WMA) was changed to a “recreation area,” would that make the property more marketable to other users like bikers, hikers and horseback riders? And would that be a good thing for hunters?

DNR is seeking public comment at four public meetings next week — and through mailed and emailed comments before a May 28, 2010 deadline — on a proposal to re-name, or reclassify, WMAs.

“A simplified classification system will improve public understanding, encourage public visitation and facilitate DNR’s marketing efforts,” said a second DNR press release about the public meetings. A first release gave no detail on what the public was being asked to comment on.

“Our proposal, developed with the assistance of a public steering committee, is that WRD-managed properties (wildlife management areas and public fishing areas) will be reduced to one of the following names: State Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Area; Conservation Recreation Area; Outdoor Recreation Area; Wildlife Management Area (no change); Public Fishing Area (no change). The names of state parks and state historic sites will remain unchanged in the state park system,” DNR said.

Also proposed are options to collect fees from some users of WMAs other than sportsmen. All sportsmen are required to buy an annual license to hunt or fish on any WMA or PFA. The options being proposed by DNR do not require “everyone else to pay” to use WMAs. Instead, fees would be collected primarily for use of “designated areas” and only at some WMAs.

“Designated areas may include: shooting ranges, special use trails, campsites, defined recreational zones and, in some cases, may include an entire property,” the press release said.

Again, hunters should note the DNR proposal does not include an option that would require all users of WMAs to pay, as sportsmen are required. They should also be aware of the dangers of collecting fees from other users groups, particularly if your favorite WMA has or will be developed for a horseback trail, bike course or bird-watching boardwalk, and if DNR starts marketing the area for those uses.

“At places like Crockford-Pigeon Mountain, the number of recreationalists outstrip hunters by a couple of orders of magnitude. When all of a sudden money starts flowing at those places from that constituent, that constituent’s going to have a greater vested interest,” said Eric VanDeGenachte, special projects manager, DNR Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division.

In addition to the issue of renaming WMAs and collecting fees from other users, DNR is also considering the idea of “hybridizing” properties.

“We will probably touch on another issue, and not really dwell on it, and we’re not really focusing too much in terms of securing public input, and that is the idea of hybridizing properties. For some of our larger state parks, for example, could they operate something more like a relatively small, highly concentrated area where human services are provided, and the larger rural context begins to act like and work like and have regulations like a wildlife management area? And vice versa, a large piece of property that’s currently managed by WRD might have a small section that’s carved out and focused for recreationalists,” VanDeGenachte said.

Public meetings have been scheduled on the following dates at the specified times and locations:
• May 17, 2010 7 p.m. Pickens County Chamber of Commerce, 500 Stegall Drive, Jasper
• May 18, 2010 7 p.m. Macon State College, 100 College Station Drive, Professional Sciences Building, Room 211 A-B, Macon
• May 19, 2010 7 p.m. Laura S. Walker State Park, 5653 Laura Walker Road in Shelter #1, Waycross
• May 20, 2010 7 p.m. Gwinnett County Parks & Recreation, Shorty Howell Park, 2750 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth  

Any participant at a meeting may present data, make a statement or comment, or offer a viewpoint or argument, either orally or in writing. Statements should be concise to permit everyone an opportunity to speak. Participants must register upon arrival and notify the registering official of their intent to give a statement. Those unable to attend a meeting may submit comments electronically to [email protected] or in writing by May 28.

Written statements should be mailed to: Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Game Management Section, Attn: John W. Bowers, 2070 U.S. Highway 278, SE, Social Circle, Georgia 30025.

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