New Hunting/Fishing Bills Come to Forefront
Issues that affect outdoor pursuits take the stage as Georgia General Assembly heads toward final days of session.
In a few weeks, you’ll be chasing a big gobbler around the woods, filling a cooler with slab crappie or scouting your property in anticipation of next deer season. While you go through the routines of your hunting and fishing interests, there are things going on at the state capitol that can seriously impact sportsmen.
The 2005 legislative session started off fairly slow where outdoor issues were concerned, but things have picked up dramatically in the last couple of weeks.
It is critical to keep an eye on what happens at the state capitol when lawmakers, some of whom don’t hunt, decide the fate of hunting seasons, bag limits, and other things that affect the way we spend our time outdoors.
Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) reintroduced a constitutional amendment on the heritage of hunting and fishing, two new bills that significantly impact dog hunting were introduced, and other issues such as scopes on muzzleloaders and baiting are being looked at by lawmakers.
The session should end around mid March, meaning there is not much more time for legislators to make changes to hunting and fishing laws. However, by the time you read this, the status of many of the bills discussed could be significantly different.
For more information on what’s going on at the Georgia Legislature, visit <www.legis.state.ga.us>.
SR 67-Constitutional Amendment on Hunting and Fishing in Georgia
Senate Resolution 67, introduced by Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), passed through the state senate by a 44-4 margin. The resolution calls for a constituitional amendment that would protect hunting and fishing as part of Georgia’s heritage. If it passes, it will go on the next ballot.
On the surface, it sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? To have written into the state’s constitution that hunting and fishing are a part of Georgia’s heritage and therefore, protected by law, would be quite a victory for sportsmen. But, the toughest challenge would be winning that victory.
Actually, if the amendment were put on the ballot, it would open sportsmen up to a potentially disastrous defeat. Realistically, any amendment to recognize hunting and fishing as a constitutional right would likely be fought tooth and nail by organized, well-funded anti-hunting groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and PETA. If these groups had their way, the amendment would lose and Georgia would be viewed as a place where any anti-hunting group could chip away at the rights of sportsmen.
To combat the influence those groups can have on voters who don’t really know how they feel about hunting and fishing, sportsmen’s groups would have to spend plenty of money and man-hours seeing that the amendment was carried.
Why would we open ourselves up for the possibility of losing on a constitutional amendment when we can already legally hunt and fish in Georgia?
Scott Tanner, a governmental affairs expert with Joe Tanner & Associates and a hunter, says the amendment is a double-edged sword of sorts.
“The same type amendment has been tried and has passed in several other states without ever being defeated,” Scott said.
He did caution about the possibility of a vote not going the way of hunters and fishermen, saying, “Losing a vote on this amendment issue could open a Pandora’s box. It would embolden anti-hunters,” Scott said. “Hunters have to stand together.”
Senate Resolution 67 was passed out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment on Thursday, February 10. The resolution is currently awaiting further action.
SB 201-Deer Management Bill
Senate Bill 201, authored by Sens. Greg Goggans (R-Douglas), Tommie Williams (R-Lyons), Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) and Jim Whitehead, Sr. (R-Evans) is the most extensive piece of deer-management legislation to go in the hopper yet this session.
The bill, if passed, would make changes to a wide variety of game laws affecting the deer-season bag limit, scopes on muzzleloaders, dog-hunting regulations and charitable venison donation.
The biggest impact the bill would have on hunting is an increase in the antlerless deer limit. Currently, Georgia hunters can take two bucks and 10 does. If passed in its current form, SB 210 would raise the limit on antlerless deer to 15 per hunter per season.
The bill would also make it legal for hunters to use scopes on their muzzleloaders during Georgia’s one week muzzleloader-only season.
There are several parts of SB 201 that could impact current deer-dogging regulations, which were just changed last year. The bill says that if the state issues a notice that a permit will not be renewed, the parties involved can petition the commissioner of DNR within 30 days for a hearing before a probate judge in the county in which complaints were filed.
The bill asks that deer season remain open until at least January 15 in the Southern Zone counties where dog-deer hunting is legal, and it seeks to keep dog hunting legal in counties in which it was legal during the 2004-05 deer season. SB 201 proposes a drop in the minimum acreage requirements for deer dogging permits to 500 acres on leased land and 250 on private land. Currently to be permitted for dog-deer hunting, land must be at least 1,000 contiguous acres.
SB 201 would do away with a law that requires hunters to mark vehicles and dog collars with permit numbers. It also drops the $100 permit fee required by the state.
Scott says the bill essentially guts changes made through HB 815. “This essentially would do away with most of the things 815 accomplished,” Scott said.
He recalled being in a House Game, Fish & Parks meeting when there was some discussion about outlawing dog hunting in some counties. Scott credits Rep. Bob Lane with making necessary concessions to craft a bill that most hunters could live with.
“If all that gets undone, the only people who are going to be hurt by it are the dog hunters,” Scott said.
Finally, the bill makes it easier for hunters to donate venison to charitable organizations. A new law would allow legally-taken deer to be donated to and prepared by groups who distribute or serve food to the needy. According to the bill, packages of donated venison must be marked “not for sale” and tagged as venison. The bill says DNR would be responsible for making information regarding the safe handling and preparation of venison readily available and relieves individuals or charity groups of responsibility for sickness caused by consumption of donated deer meat unless reckless behavior or intentional misconduct were proved.
Scott guessed that the venison donation part of the bill might become an agricultural issue.
At press time, the bill had just been introduced.
HB 484-Lower Acreage Minimum for Dog Hunting
Rep. Bob Lane (R-Statesboro) introduced a bill in mid February that would lower the minimum acreage for dog hunting to 250 for landowners and keep it at 1,000 acres on leased land.
The bill was introduced right before press time and no action had been taken.
HB 338-Scopes on Muzzleloaders
Hunters who want to use a scope on their muzzleloader would be able to do so under a proposed law. House Bill 338, introduced by Reps. Pete Warren (D-Augusta), Charles Jenkins (D-Blairsville), Jon Burns (R-Newington), Al Williams (D-Hinesville) and Hinson Mosley (D-Jesup) would make it legal to hunt with a scoped muzzleloader during Georgia’s primitive-weapons season.
Some believe putting scopes on muzzleloaders would allow more Georgians, particularly older hunters who can’t see well enough to shoot with iron sights, in the woods for more of the state’s deer season. Others say once you add the latest technology to your smokepole, it is no longer primitive.
Allowing scopes on muzzleloaders was a suggestion by the Georgia Statewide Deer Management Planning Committee. DNR included it as part of the final version of the plan.
The House Game, Fish & Parks Committee passed the bill on February 15 with a “do pass” recommendation to the full Georgia House of Representatives.
HB 345-Baiting bill
A bill introduced at the state capitol by Reps. Austin Scott (R-Tifton), Ellis Black (D-Valdosta), Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla), Johnny Floyd (D-Codele), Richard Royal (D-Camilla) and Hinson Mosley (D-Jesup) would allow hunters to bait deer.
Currently, food or other supplements may be put out for deer, but a hunter can not have a line of sight to the bait and can not be within 200 yards of it. It is also not permissible to take deer coming to or leaving a baited area.
Current law really allows supplemental feeding year-round. And how baiting is interpreted is often left up to the discretion of a conservation ranger. If a ranger thinks you are hunting too close to a baited area or such an area is directly aiding your killing of deer, you can be cited.
The new bill would remove the baiting exceptions on private land. Essentially the proposed law change would allow you to use bait to directly impact your ability to kill deer.
Wildlife officials and many hunters say baiting can lead to outbreaks of disease among a deer herd. Some say that other states that allow baiting don’t have the problems cited by state wildlife biologists. And some don’t understand why it’s okay to practice supplemental feeding but not to bait deer.
As of GON deadline, the baiting bill had not been voted on by the House Game, Fish & Parks Committee.
HB 292-Extended Archery-Only Season for Some Counties
A bill introduced the first week in February calls for an extended, archery-only open deer season from January 1 – February 28 in 16 of Georgia’s most populated or fastest-growing counties, including Barrow, Bartow, Clayton, Cobb, Dawson, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Jackson, Paulding and Rockdale.
The proposal would help state wildlife officials manage the deer herd, which is overpopulated in many urban/suburban areas.
All normal season rules and regulations would apply, including a bag limit of 10 antlerless deer and two bucks (one of which must have at least four points on one side of the antlers).
The idea of an extended season would likely be embraced by some and shunned by others. However, it is likely meant to provide greater herd-management flexibility to hunters in the 16 counties. The question is, how many hunters would have access to land in the 16 counties mentioned? In metro Atlanta’s fastest growing communities, the answer is, not many.
The Game, Fish & Parks Committee sent the bill to subcommittee for more study. A recommendation by the subcommittee did not come before press time.
HB 301-Allow “Noodling”
House Bill 301 would make it legal to take blue, channel and flathead catfish by hand between March 15 and July 31 of each year.
Under the bill, noodlers could not use hooks, snares, nets or other artificial instruments and could not utilize scuba equipment.
Game, Fish & Parks Committee members recommended passage of HB 301 at their meeting on Feburary 15.
HB 261-Hunting Clubs as Nuisances
House Bill 261 would define any land where wildlife habitat is grown or maintained or wildlife is hunted, as an agricultural operation.
By law, ag operations in areas of changing land use are not open to civil suits because they are viewed as a nuisance. A neighbor can’t get your chicken house shut down because it smells bad.
If the property next door to the land you hunt sells to a developer, people who buy homes in the new neighborhood could not have your hunting club shut down by means of a civil action.
The noise of your shots or the smoke from your campfire would not be enough grounds to stop your hunting there.
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