Governor’s Proposed Budget Shows An Increase for DNR

Sportsmen need to pay attention to scopes on muzzleloaders. Dog-hunting group to propose changes to HB 815.

GON Staff | February 5, 2005

Possible Budget Increase for DNR

The governor’s recommended state budget for fiscal year (FY) 2006 increases the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) budget by more than $7 million. The FY ‘06 budget for DNR is $97,901,713. In FY ‘05, which ends on June 30, the budget was $90,744,022.

Gov. Sonny Perdue announced his recommended budget at his annual State of the State address on January 12.

Of the almost $98 million allocated to DNR, a little less than $30 million will go to the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD). WRD uses appropriated money to run game and non-game programs.

The remaining money will be distributed among several DNR departments, including administration, environmental protection, coastal resources, parks, historic preservation, pollution prevention, land conservation, and the Georgia State Games Commission.

DNR, like other governmental departments, proposes budget numbers to the governor before he puts together his state budget. Last year, he asked DNR for budget recommendations that reflected a 3 percent cut, one that reflected no increase in budget, and one plan for a 5 percent increase.

The good news for sportsmen is that this year’s DNR budget numbers included no facilities cuts, meaning that existing Wildlife Management Areas, Public Fishing Areas or hatcheries shouldn’t be shut down this year.

Todd Holbrook, Assistant Director of WRD, called the lack of cuts a “bright point.”

“What I know is, we don’t have any facilities on the cut list,” Todd said. “No facilities in direct service to the public will be cut.”

Because of state budget cuts over the past couple of years, WRD has lost some programs, such as a fisheries pond checks outreach program.

“Some of the services we have offered in the past, we won’t be able to offer in the future,” Todd said.

Also, due to cuts, retirements or promotions, WRD currently has 31 vacant positions. There are 15 vacancies in game management, five in fisheries, eight in law enforcement and three in the director’s office.

It’s not that unfilled positions are lost, Todd explained. There just is no funding available to hire personnel at this time. Todd said that at some point, presumably, there will be enough money in the state budget to resume the vacant positions but for now, WRD will have to do without them.

The new budget does create increased funding for operations at the new Ocmulgee PFA, including creation of two new fisheries positions.

The budget numbers are not set in stone, yet. First, the Georgia House and Senate Appropriations committees will look at the budget and make their own recommendations before sending their versions to their chamber of the legislature for approval. Both chambers must approve the budget  for it to be passed.

Shane Hix, Gov. Perdue’s deputy press secretary, said the budget will go through the same debate process as any legislation before it is passed.

“The House and the Senate will go through their debates and have their votes on the budget,” Shane said. “Both sides have to agree on it.”

Todd wouldn’t speculate on what the final budget might look like when it is passed by the Georgia legislature.

“It’s got to go through the committee process on both sides and be approved by both sides. There are a lot of hurdles to jump before it is final,” Todd said.

Scopes on Muzzleloaders,

Contact Your Representative

Also during the 2005 legislative session, legislators are expected to take a look at several items that will affect the future of deer hunting in Georgia. The new Statewide Deer Management Plan, which was presented to the Board of Natural Resources on January 18, calls for many changes to Georgia deer hunting. A more thorough breakdown of the plan can be found beginning on page 22 of this issue of GON.

Todd said he wasn’t sure what would get passed, but he knew the hot topics hunters should pay attention to include scopes on muzzleloaders, changes to the deer-dogging permit process and an increase in the bag limit for antlerless deer.

“I don’t know how much we will get passed, but those three things are sure to be discussed,” Todd said.

One of the most talked about issues among hunters is scopes for muzzleloaders. Current state law prohibits use of telescopic sights on smokepoles. However, many hunters want to extend their deer season by hitting the woods during Georgia’s one-week muzzleloader-only season.

It is critical for hunters to stay abreast of this issue because a law change is necessary before you can put a scope on your muzzleloader. Let your legislators know what an important issue this is to you.

Deer Dogging

Also, the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation is pushing for changes to current dog-hunting regulations.

The group is working to craft a bill that eliminates the acreage limit on private tracts and reduces the minimum on leased land to 350 acres. They also want to see permit numbers removed from dogs and truck windows.

“That has been a thorn in our side for a long time,” Wayne said.

Wayne hopes a new bill would hold individuals, rather than clubs, responsible for violations. He said his group would push for habitual troublemakers or hunters who had a serious complaint lodged against them to appear before a probate court judge in the county where a complaint is filed. If they are found guilty, they will lose their hunting license for a year.

Citing fewer complaints against dog hunters than in past seasons, Wayne said, “I think we are policing our own better, and if the DNR will give us a little leeway, we can make it work.”

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