Speak Now! Last Chance For Sportsmen To Speak Before Decision Are Made
Sportsman asked to comment at February opening meetings.
Do you want the bag limit on does increased from 10 does per season (as it is now) up to 15 as is currently being planned? Do you want scopes on muzzleloaders? Do you want the Southern Zone deer season and the deer season in archery-only counties extended to January 15?
Do you want to change the deer-dogging regulations so private hunters can hunt on 250 acres? Should we increase out-of-state license fees? Should non-hunting and fishing users of WMAs be charged for their use on these WMAs? Should the place that processes your deer also be allowed to donate that meat to charity without fear of being sued for the kindness?
These are just a few of the questions that will be put before the public at four meetings in February, 2005.
If you cannot attend, there are other ways for your voice to be heard before WRD considers new hunting regulations for the 2006 seasons and beyond.
Being heard is important. Total public response will guide WRD professionals in forming any changes to these current recommendations when they again bring then before the DNR Board at its March meeting.
For what it is worth, a light public turnout will be interpreted by the state as public approval of the plan, the logic being that if folks didn’t like it, they would come to the meetings and say something.
Mark your calendars now.
Four meetings are scheduled. They are important to you, to hunting in Georgia, and to how future decisions are made regarding hunting
These are open-format meetings. There will be no presentation as such, but there will be WRD personnel on hand to address questions and to help you make your voice heard.
There will be tables or stations in these meeting rooms with subjects identified and material available to help you provide a response. In some important ways, this type of meeting format is a superior barometer used to gauge public sentiment on an issue.
For instance, one of these tables will ask the No. 1 most controversial question in the plan thus far — do you support the plan to increase the season limit on does from 10 to 15 per year.
How do you feel about that question? There will be a place there for you to write down your opinion.
You should know that the number of people making comments is important. If five of you go together and one of you does all the writing for the group, then only one of you is going to count. In this type of format, normally each attendee has to make his or her own comments. But it isn’t hard and the folks there really will be as helpful as they can be.
Development of the Plan
This plan did not just spring up out of the ground. It has been in the development stages since late last spring. Even at that, this plan has been on a very fast track, rushed, some say.
The first step was an extensive, detailed poll of Georgians about attitudes toward deer and deer management. The poll targeted three groups, and in doing so, broke new ground in deer management in Georgia. The poll targeted as many non-hunters as it did hunters. The poll also targeted landowners.
Consequently, this poll and the management objectives of this plan are broader than hunter-centric. The pleasant surprise out of this study is the strong support hunting enjoys by the non-hunting public. The shift sportsmen need to recognize is that voices other than hunters and wildlife biologists are also at the table overseeing deer herd management objectives and methods. These members included representatives from insurance, Georgia Department of Transportation, county government, forest industry representatives, commercial agriculture and wildlife-related industries, wildlife disease specialists from UGA, the outdoor press and others. This writer was a member of the Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee helped WRD select members for four sub-committees; each focusing on issues in their area. The four sub-committees were from the mountains, the piedmont, the upper coastal plain and the lower coastal plain.
After reviewing the poll results, the Steering Committee came up with 35 questions to put before the public. These questions were used in five meetings around the state to gauge public reaction. That reaction was funneled to the subcommittees for recommendations. The results of those subcommittees was massaged by state biologists to develop recommendations for the Steering Committee.
In two meetings last fall, the Steering Committee reached consensus on all but two points in the plan.
Almost no one outside the members of the Steering Committee and the WRD staff has seen the entire plan. It is available, and lengthy. GON posted all of the original poll results on its website and now the entire plan can be found there <www.gon.com>.
What does this plan call for?
The list is lengthy. Here are the highlights — or lowlights — depending on your point of view.
Help Small-Game Hunters
WRD will pay more attention to small-game access by opening more gates on more WMAs.
The plan calls for WRD to recommend a permanent land-acquisition program, and deer-management issues will be addressed on land purchases.
Hunt State Parks
The plan calls for deer hunting on three state parks for the up-coming season and promises to work with Parks on addressing deer issues on other state parks.
Kill More Hogs
Hog-hunting opportunities are to be increased on WMAs in the coming seasons. As a matter of fact, hogs took up a considerable amount of time and interest with the various committees.
A No-Holes-Barred proposal is being offered against hogs. The proposal legalizes a number of otherwise illegal activities. These new rules (or absence of rules) are only in effect when deer and turkey season are out. So the period runs from January to March 20 and from May 15 through September bow season opener. Under this new proposal, during that time, you could hunt hogs over bait, and at night, and with a light, and from a vehicle. Each of these activities will be illegal during deer or turkey season.
Along with liberalizing the ways and means to kill a hog, there is a call to make it illegal to drop a hog off. While Department of Agriculture regulation prohibits it, is common for folks who like to have hogs around to trap and relocated them in the wild. The new proposal calls for a WRD law prohibiting such actions and fines for violators.
Finally, the plan also recommends that deer processors be allowed to process feral hogs just as they do deer.
As it stands now, a hunter either has to process a hog himself or take it to an approved red-meat processor. Due to the fewer number of red-meat processors, and thus the great distance to travel, many hunters “just don’t fool with a hog.”
There may be considerable resistance to this part of the plan from the Georgia Department of Agriculture. How much concern they may have remains to be seen, but there has been a suggestion that the number of feral hogs in Georgia may now exceed the number of domestic swine in the state. No one seems to have those numbers for comparison. But everyone agrees that there are a great many feral hogs in Georgia.
Fewer Deer in the Deer Belt
The plan calls for reducing the number of the deer in the middle part of the state, and keeping it about where it is now along the coast, in the the mountains and in the southwest part of the state. Based on the feedback GON has received regarding the recent hunting season, many hunters from about I-20 south to a line from Columbus to Augusta may think that the herd has already been cut back enough. A record-shattering 46 percent of respondents to our annual poll about “Rate your deer season” responded that this past season was the worst deer season ever. The 10-year average for those expressing having a poor season is 19.9 percent of hunters.
The state biologists point to an estimated 50,000 deer-car collisions per year and in the DNR Board meeting suggested that such accidents might cause as much as $100 million in property damage, not to mention personal injury.
Hunters have suggested that deer/car collisions are on the increase because there are 150,000 more cars on Georgia roads each year and because hunters are being excluded from traditional hunting land due to changes in land use, while deer remain. Increasing a hunting bag limit on unhunted land will do little for the deer herd or deer/car collision statistics. Increasing hunter access needs to be expanded if regulations are to have any real impact on the herd.
The plan increases the minimum acres to be able to hunt in a high-fenced area, jumping the acreage from 300 acres now to 640 acres if the change is adopted. Existing 300-acre operations will be grandfathered. This change would only apply to new fences.
Urban Deer Management
WRD would approach agencies with management responsibilities for undeveloped land in urban settings with the need to allow deer hunting. Couple that with a program to help get hunters in to privately-owned urban and suburban lands for deer hunting. Extend archery seasons in archery-only counties to January 15 (Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Clayton).
New changes would reduce from 1,000 acres to 250 acres the minimum acres a private landowner can apply for a permit to dog hunt on his land. Apparently the landowner can invite as many guests as he or she wishes. Eliminate the permit fee and delete the requirement for the permit number to be placed on the vehicle. This recommendation is likely to be decided in the legislature.
Hunting Exotics in Pens
The recommendation is to continue to prohibit hunting of exotic cervids (like elk or sika deer) in pens. There was a big fight about this in last year’s legislature. It may come up again in this session.
A number of suggestions in the plan would increase the capacity, the funding and the legal safety regarding moving excess venison into local food banks. The current state-affiliated Hunters for the Hungry program accounted for more than 900 deer processed and donated last year. However, more than 300,000 deer were taken. Far less than one percent of the harvest was donated to the needy. If ways could be created to expand charitable giving, the deer herd, public safety and the needy could all benefit. To that end, the recommendations call for expanding the state program, championing a “Good Samaritan” bill to protect hunters and processors, and finding additional funding partners to underwrite the expansion effort.
Always a contentious subject, the committee voted to keep things as they are. Baiting for wildlife remains banned. Feral hogs are not wildlife.
Scopes on Muzzleloaders
The committee agreed to legalize the use of scopes on muzzleloaders. This change is expected to sail through the legislature this session.
These and many other subjects will be addressed at the public meetings in February. A plan of some sort is going to be adopted. If there is anything you want to say about this plan, good or ill, please speak up now.
There will be stations that prompt you for written comment on all of these issues. Additionally, you are allowed to raise any other issue or concern you have during these meetings.
Further, you may comment on these plans without attending the meetings. Written comments may be submitted to WRD, or they may be submitted directly to the decision makers at the DNR Board, or to both places.
WRD comments can be mailed to 2070 Hwy 278, Social Circle, GA 30025, faxed to (706) 557-3030, or they can be emailed to Todd_Holbrook @dnr.state.ga.us.
Comments directly to the DNR Board can be sent to: 2 MLK Dr. Ste 1252 East, Atlanta, GA 30334, faxed to 404-656-4729 and emailed to [email protected]