Sportsmen Hit By WRD Budget Cuts

During economic recession, damage could have been worse, officials say.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. | March 1, 2002

In the first week of the 2002 General Assembly, Gov. Roy Barnes revealed his budget recommendations for Fiscal Year 2003, unveiling at the same time his picks from among DNR’s list of budget-cut offerings.

Though the bite taken out of the Wildlife Resources Division could have been worse, and there is still a likelihood that the damage will be mitigated, sportsmen will feel an impact from the state’s recession.

The Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) is likely to be the most high-profile program to suffer. Out of many programs that WRD offered up for cuts, including fish hatcheries, kids fishing events, Boone & Crockett scoring, WMA management and flathead-catfish control, BQI is the one named program that ended up suffering a reduction in Gov. Barnes’ budget.

BQI began as a pilot program in 2000 with 14 eligible counties, and would have gone into 2002 with 20 counties until it attracted the attention of budget planners. Gov. Barnes’ plan takes BQI back to the original 14 counties and removes two job positions (one filled and one vacant) that focus on the program, a savings of $334,000.

Rep. Bob Lane of Statesboro, chairman of the House Game, Fish & Parks committee, was instrumental in getting BQI started. He told GON he intends to try to amend the proposed budget to get funding for BQI restored (see page 76 for more on Mr. Lane). The legislature is currently working on the budget, and it will not be final until the end of the session in March.

The other budget cut that will impact sportsmen is Gov. Barnes’ recommendation that WRD eliminate three salaried job positions and two full-time, hourly positions, for a savings of $238,000. According to WRD Assistant Director Noel Holcomb, the five positions will come from the Game Management and Fisheries sections.

“What we’re going to be doing is looking at vacancies and how we can shuffle staff around, because we have deliberately not filled some positions to wait and see what the Governor did,” said Holcomb. “It doesn’t appear this will affect any warm bodies. We can probably do this by not filling positions that are already vacant.”

Though the Governor did not cut specific programs by name, like WMA services or flathead-catfish control (which happens to have a vacant biologist position right now), these areas could still suffer if the job positions chosen are in those programs.

“If we did use the flathead catfish biologist position, for instance, then obviously that research and parts of that program would end,” said Holcomb.

Holcomb said the decision about which job positions will be closed won’t be made until the budget is finalized by the legislature.

On the plus side, the Governor’s budget included three, major capital outlay projects for WRD. They are:

• $5.5 million to purchase an additional 5,400 acres at Chickasawhatchee WMA in Baker County. The Nature Conservancy of Georgia is currently securing the property and will sell it to the state, enlarging the WMA to more than 20,000 acres.

• $3.5 million for construction of Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area, a 103-acre lake to be located on Ocmulgee WMA in Bleckley County that is projected to open for fishing in 2004.

• $3 million for Phase II construction at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center on the Jasper/Newton county line. Phase I included the new visitor’s center and the Brooke Ager wildlife education center. The second phase will add meeting rooms, a cafeteria and a lodge to house teachers who come to the center to be instructed in environmental education. The new buildings will be located near Clubhouse Lake, adjacent to the existing visitor’s center.

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