DNR Wants To Change WMAs To Rec Areas

Bikers, hikers and others get welcome mat at WMAs. Sportsmen have until June 15 to comment.

Steve Burch | May 28, 2010

DNR is in the midst of creating a plan to market WMAs to all Georgians for recreation by changing what the areas are called.

DNR also is considering options to charge some of these other WMA users. Many sportsmen have lamented that only hunters and anglers had to pay to use these areas. But the plan crafted by DNR may not be what those sportsmen hoped for. DNR rushed through the public-meeting portion of this process, announcing the meetings less than two weeks before the meeting dates and releasing no details, until pressed, on what the meetings were about. Those meetings held May 17-20 were, not surprisingly, poorly attended by sportsmen.

Sportsmen still have until June 15 to express their views on the plan. There is a response button on the GON website if you would like to voice your opinion.

DNR’s Goals

According to the presentation given at the public meetings, DNR plans to use the WMA system to:

1) Increase the number of people who use these lands.
2) Increase recreational diversity on these lands.
3) Increase diversity of visitors.
4) Increase revenue generation.

To achieve these goals, DNR plans to, “Provide park-like services, facilities and amenities on WRD properties where needed and financially sustainable.”

Who Pays?

A headline of the DNR plan is user fees for non-sportsmen, but this would only be at “designated areas” of some WMAs. Sportsmen are asked to comment on a plan where non-sportsmen would be charged in some cases, but not in others. Meanwhile, sportsmen would still be required to pay across the board, regardless of services and opportunities provided.

The bottom line is that hikers, birders and bikers will not be charged on all WMA lands. So, on some lands, only sportsmen will pay — still. The determinant of where non-sportsmen will and will not be charged is likely related to something called Special Use. At the public meeting, Eric VanDeGenachte, special projects manager for the DNR Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division, referred to these areas as “mini-parks.” Currently, such areas would be the hang-gliding port at Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA, the various shooting ranges and state-owned boat ramps.

If in the future WRD built improved access to other WMAs, they could justify charging non-sportsmen to use the facilities. DNR would have financial incentive to create horse trails, bike trails and other recreational opportunities on WMAs.

DNR plans to make WMA lands more attractive to other users was a major sticking point for sportsmen at the public meetings. By increasing the availability and attractiveness for others, are the WMAs less attractive to sportsmen?

The worry is user-conflict and that DNR will not protect hunting. Will sportsmen pay for a WMA stamp and then pay the price of reduced opportunity and/or poorer quality of experience in the field? Perhaps, but the counter-point is that these other users are already using the land for free. At least this would create some cash-flow from other users.

Watch the Money

The funds generated by a new fee will remain with DNR to be spent on WMAs. However, that does not mean they will be spent for wildlife programs. Will park employees be posted to WMAs? The plan is silent. But if they are, will they be paid for with these fees? More users means more expenses like trash pick-up, etc. It is not clear that fees for park-like users will translate into better wildlife or experiences for sportsmen. The opposite is possible, if not likely.

Pay How Much?

DNR’s two alternatives have drawn little support at the meetings. One plan calls for a car pass — $5 for a 3-day pass or $19 for a year pass. Sportsmen would have to print and display passes in their vehicles — it would come with the WMA stamp. The second plan calls for an individual permit — $3 for a three-day pass and $12 for an annual pass.

Reggie Dickie, Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation (GHFF) president, garnered general agreement at one of the meetings when he said the price should be the same for everyone.

“If a man wants to take his 16-year-old son on a fishing trip to a PFA and he has to pay a $19 fee, then the same man should expect to pay the same amount to take his son on a rock-climbing trip, or hang-gliding trip or a horse-back ride,” Reggie said.

Change the WMA Name

The 27-member steering committee selected by DNR included only two sportsmen’s groups. It included three birders, four conservationists (including two from the Nature Conservancy), Five from various parks groups and 12 members from government.

The 28th member of the committee, GHFF, says it never received an invitation to any of the three meetings (held in October, February and March). However, GHFF is looking forward to attending the next meeting to finalize DNR’s plan, likely in late June or early July.

DNR wants to change the name of WMAs to be more descriptive and inviting to the broader public.

The proposed new names are:

1) State Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Areas.
2) Conservation Recreation Areas.
3) Outdoor Recreation Areas.
4) No change.

What is common to all the proposed names is “Recreation Area.” Apparently, the group believes Wildlife Management Area will not serve the DNR goals as well as a name more encompassing of all forms of recreation.

Do you have a preference? Should the names be changed? DNR says it wants to hear from sportsmen. The last slide in DNR’s meeting presentation said, “We want to hear.”

DNR says it began with numerous internal meetings, invited a steering committee, studied the issue from October until March, and then produced a 22-slide presentation and requested comments on the plan. DNR wanted critical thinking from sportsmen immediately after the presentation of a plan it has been working on for eight months.

GON requested an extension of the comment period to June 15. Voice your opinion to DNR from our website at <>.

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