Sportsmen Programs, WMA Land Offered Up As WRD Cuts

Instead of trimming fat, sportsmen programs bloodied in suggested cuts.

GON Staff | February 1, 2002

With the approach of the 2002 General Assembly, we grow closer to learning whether sportsmen will be missed, winged, or gut shot by budget cuts.

DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) has already submitted mandatory proposals for meeting a 5-percent cut for the budget, and as GON reported last month, the items on WRD’s list don’t look at all like fat that needs trimming.

When reading these budget-cut proposals, remember that sportsmen pay fund the department through license fees and an 11 percent federal tax on hunting and fishing equipment including guns and ammo.

One of the areas of cuts that the DNR Commissioner has offered up to the Governor is management services on state Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). None of the proposals call for closing WMAs to hunting — instead, WRD Game Management has opted to reduce services. Fertilizer and seed for food plots, gas for tractors that mow, plant and maintain food plots, fields and foot trails, equipment and funds to repair dirt roads and keep them passable — these and other services could end or be reduced on as many as 24 WMAs. At the same time, the WRD employees who provide the sweat for these services are also targetted, particularly non-salaried employees who are paid on an hourly basis. Exactly where these services and employees will be cut won’t be known for certain until the budget plans are unveiled, says WRD. If the proposed WMA cuts are chosen, Game Management will then make the selections to come up with the money.

All DNR divisions were asked to lay out their budget-cut proposals in two plans to increase options. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (OPB) could choose all the cuts in “Plan A,” all the cuts in “Plan B,” some cuts from each, or, possibly, all of both. Some DNR officials seem to believe that Plan A is the one most likely to be selected, so let’s look at it first. Here is the actual Plan A proposal for WMA management cuts:

“Reduce management on four WMAs and eliminate activities on two WMAs. Public hunting would not be eliminated, but the public would realize less services from these actions. No habitat management would be completed, road maintenance would not be performed, and new or expanded wildlife openings would not be created. Cuts three full-time hourly positions.”

According to Game Management Chief Todd Holbrook, if this plan is chosen by OPB, the WMAs chosen for cuts would be those that do not currently have a full-time, salaried area manager. Generally, areas without a traditional area manager are those with lower use by hunters, so the impact of reduced management on these WMAs would be less. Also, employees with more seniority would be protected in favor of hourly employees. The following WMAs currently meet these criteria for Plan A budget reductions, so six of these could see reduced management:

Albany Nursery, Alexander Tract, Allen Creek, Doerun Natural Area, Joe Kurz, McGraw Ford, Ogeechee, Ohoopee Dunes, Otting Tract, and Phinizy Swamp.

“When we start putting these together, we have to come up with a total sum of money,” Holbrook said. “You’re going to have to consider the ones where you spend more money to come up with the money to meet the cut, however big a price tag they put on that when it goes through the General Assembly process.”

Another option under this plan, said Holbrook, would be to look at employees and/or general expenses that serve multiple WMAs in a region.

“It could be additional support to three, four or five ‘main-line’ WMAs, where we would reduce management in order to save money. That potentially could be spread almost anywhere.”

Plan B has by far the worst potential impact on WMAs of the two plans. Where Plan A would cut $85,943 in services, Plan B would take a $339,000 bite out of WMAs. Here’s the proposal:

Consolidate management on four sets of WMAs and eliminate state management on 10 federally-owned WMAs. Public hunting would not be eliminated, but the public would realize less services. Cuts 14 positions—13 filled, one vacant.”

This cut would end state effort on 10 of the 20 federally-owned WMAs now managed by WRD (see the list of 20 federally-owned, state-managed WMAs on this page).

“These are areas that, even if we go away, will still be available for hunters to use,” said Holbrook. “While the hunting will not be as good as if we were there, it will still be available. Is it a good idea? No, that’s why it’s in Plan B. But we’re obligated to come up with potential budget cuts, and we’ve come through quite a number of years of these things. There’s no flexibility left.”

Except Lake Seminole, all of these federal areas are located north of Macon, most of them in the mountains and along the Savannah River. On the 10 that are chosen, state management would come to a complete halt, not just be reduced, if this proposal is elected by Gov. Barnes and the state legislature. In September, GON reported on the new archery state-record bear taken by a hunter at Swallow Creek WMA. The hunter was following the advice of the area manager, who suggested hunting some sorghum food plots. If these cuts are selected, it is area managers and food plots like these that will be lost.

That’s not all of Plan B; the other portion of this cut would take four pairs (eight WMAs in all) of closely-located WMAs, reduce services and cut employees so that each pair then gets by on shared management resources, both at reduced levels. Holbrook said that these could include some of the WMAs mentioned for the Plan A cuts, or any others that are close together and could therefore share resources. The state management regions that could bear this cut are the mountains, west central Georgia, and the Upper Coastal Plain in southeast Georgia.

Though WRD says they cannot name specific WMAs for this proposal, looking at a WMA map there are several WMA pairs in these regions that appear to fit the bill, particularly in the mountains where there are numerous WMAs in close proximity.

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