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Legislative Update: Some WMAs Likely Spared the Budget Knife

At this point, any funding cuts are bad, but a WRD budget approved by the House isn't nearly as bad as it could have been. Most bills died with little movement this legislative session, including an effort to extend the Northern Zone deer season.

Daryl Kirby | March 24, 2009

The key issue for sportsmen during the current Georgia legislative session is the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) budget. The overall budget for WRD has been cut year after year along with other state agencies, despite sportsmen paying for about 80 percent of their own way through license fees and taxes on sporting equipment.

This year, the legislature is recommending a significant cut — almost 14 percent — from the previous budget, and part of the shortfall in WRD coffers will be made up by not managing some WMAs on federal land. Most of the mountain WMAs, Cedar Creek, Redlands and other popular areas are on federal national forest land and could go to state seasons instead of managed, controlled hunts. Also, WRD food plots and management efforts could end. Todd Holbrook, assistant director of WRD, said it’s too soon to know which WMAs will be impacted; however, he said the budget passed by the House is far better than it could have been.

“The House version is good news. Instead of having $497,537 in state funds on the WMA cutting block, the figure was reduced to $170,537. That is only one-third as much to cut. Hunters come out much better,” Todd said.

There are reports that new DNR Commissioner Chris Clark was instrumental in reducing the cuts to WMAs by cutting administrative costs. Also spared was a trout hatchery that could have severely impacted Georgia’s trout-stocking program. In the overall WRD budget passed by the House last week, money from the state general funds to WRD was slashed from $37.5 million to $32.4 million.

As a way to ease WRD budget concerns, a survey published in GON showed widespread support for legislations requiring other users on WMAs to pay for a stamp, as sportsmen are required to do. However, DNR didn’t support such a plan, and no legislation was introduced.

Moving forward is HB 326, which raises non-resident hunting and fishing licenes. A non-resident big-game license would go from $135 to $195. Meanwhile, tacked on to HB 326, introduced by Rep. Bob Lane (R-Statesboro), is the repeal of a sunset provision promised to sportsmen when they agreed to fund land acquisition. HB raises non-resident license fees at different levels.

In 1992, when DNR asked sportsmen to fund Preservation 2000, it was the second time in five years sportsmen funded, through increased license fees, programs to buy land for the state. Like the 1987 land-acquisition program, sportsmen again supported buying land in 1992, but a big difference was sportsmen asked for protection of their money. The state said the license-fee increase was for land acquisition; sportsmen said fine — when the land is paid for, make sure license fees are rolled back to previous levels. In 2012, our license fees are supposed to go down. By a vote of 164-2, the House voted to pass HB 326, and it now awaits action by the Senate.

GON Publisher Steve Burch required the inclusion of the sunset provision before he agreed to support the Preservation 2000 program.

Of the axing of the provision, Burch said, “The dismissal of the provision protecting sportsmen is sad, but it is consistent with recent attitudes.”

Other bills GON has been following include:

• SB 99, 30-Foot Boat Length Limit on Sinclair, Burton, Seed, Rabun, Tugalo, Tallulah Falls and Yonah; Sen. Grant (R-Milledgeville): SB 99 passed the Senate by a vote of 49-3 and awaits action by the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee.

• HB 402, Statewide Ending to Deer Season; Rep. Martin Scott (R-Rossville): The bill did not make it out of the House, stalling in the Game, Fish and Parks Committee. The push to extend the Northern Zone deer season to close on Jan. 15 appears not to be back in the hands of WRD, which hinted that public meetings might be scheduled to discuss the issue.

• SB 71, Blood Alcohol Level for Boating and Hunting Under the Influence; Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen): This bill would have reduced the blood-alcohol levels before someone can be charged with boating or hunting under the influence, making it in line with Driving Under the Influence — a blood-alcohol level of .08. Despite support from many sportsmen and WRD Law Enforcement, SB 71 did not make it out of Senate Committee.

• HB 182, Restrict Counties and Cities From Imposing Firearms Discharge Ordinances; Rick Austin (R-Demorest): This proposed law provided that no county or municipality can impose any limitation or prohibition on the discharge of firearms that is applicable to tracts of property of five or more acres. HB 182 did not move out of the House Judiciary committee

• SB 12, Require Serial Numbers of Bullets; Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D-Lithonia): This legislation requires every bullet sold in Georgia carry a serial number, and all bullets without a serial number would be illegal in less than a year. It would raise taxes and require every purchase of a bullet be recorded in a state database, raising the cost of bullets. SB 12 did not make it out of Senate committee, and neither did various other bills, pro and con, that would have affected gun owners.

While the budget and HB 326 loom large for hunters and fishermen, overall it has been a quiet legislative session for sportsmen. Visit the website <http://www.legis.state.ga.us> for information and updates on legislation.

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