PFAs Close Two Days a Week

Latest budget cuts force nine state Public Fishing Areas to close Mondays and Tuesdays; other cuts include positions and hatchery funding.

Daryl Kirby | July 31, 2011

Reduced programs and fewer people on the job, that’s been the annual standard as budget cuts slice into the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) and its Fisheries, Game Management and Law Enforcement sections

The most visible impact of the latest WRD cuts is the closure of Public Fishing Areas (PFAs) two days a week beginning Aug. 1.

“All PFAs will be open to the public five days each week (Wednesdays through Sundays), sunrise to sunset. The areas will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Rocky Mountain PFA will remain open seven days a week as this facility is operated under contract with Oglethorpe Power,” read a WRD press release.

WRD Fisheries Chief John Biagi said, “Our goal has always been to provide our visitors with a quality angling experience in a family friendly atmosphere. These changes will allow us to continue to offer the same level of experience while dealing with current staff reductions.”

Fisheries lost two fisheries technician positions in this latest budget cut. John said cutting two days from PFAs will help as the agency tries to juggle or adjust from reduced staff.

“It’s been a tough time for state government, and we’re just making due with what we have the best way we can,” John said.

A potential silver lining to new operating days for PFAs is better fishing because of reduced pressure.

“That mandated break on the fish, while certainly not a guarantee to improve fishing, it might make Wednesdays a good day to fish the PFAs,” John said.

PFAs weren’t the only hit in the last budget cuts. Todd Holbrook, DNR deputy commissioner, outlined the following impacts to sportsmen from the latest round of budget cuts:

• Reduction of $210,396 in WMA leases paid. The state is not leasing any of the Oaky Woods properties. The state bought 10,015 acres of it last year, but the WMA will be smaller by about 6,000 acres without the leases

• $736,992 was reduced from salaries and benefits. Seventeen positions in WRD that recently became vacant or will become vacant through retirements will not be filled. These positions are in Game Management, Fisheries and Law Enforcement. The mixed bag of conservation services these people were providing will be lost or at least diminished.

• There was a reduction of $100,000 for operations of the Steve Cocke Hatchery near Dawson, which will be operated only part of the year. It will produce hybrids and stripers for cool-season stockings but will not produce bass, bream and catfish for late summer/early fall stockings.

Cutting WRD positions as people retire has been a common method of dealing with budget reductions. No current employees lose their jobs, but services to sportsmen erode as biologists, technicians and law-enforcement officers retire and no one is hired to do their jobs.

For example, after years of budget cuts, the number of county rangers in DNR Law Enforcement is 188, down from a high of 252.

“We used to have a ranger in each county, living there. Now there are 40 counties where that doesn’t occur,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, DNR assistant chief of Law Enforcement.

Another challenge is the difficulty of getting the job done with limited resources, like gasoline.

“You just have to hit the high spots and really pre-plan your patrols. Everybody is just real cognizant that you have to conserve,” Jeff said.

One small bright spot is that five people are now training in the ranger academy.

“That is not much, but it’s something. Those will be entry-level ranger positions,” Jeff said.

That will bump the number of ranger boots on the ground from 188 to 193.

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