State Buys Heart Of Oaky Woods WMA

John Trussell | January 6, 2011


The state just purchased 10,015 acres of Oaky Woods WMA. The map does not include 420 acres that was negotiated late. That tract extends in a narrow band from the south end of this map and continues in a southerly direction to the mouth of Big Indian Creek at the Ocmulgee River.

During the Oaky Woods December 1-4 deer hunt, many of the 448 hunters in attendance wondered if the WMA would even exist next year, as the Georgia DNR Board was set to discuss the possible purchase of the property at their Dec. 7-8 meeting. A “no” vote could have possibly meant the end of the WMA.

On Dec. 7, the Land Acquisition sub-committee voted 8 to 1 to recommend the purchase to the full DNR Board, and then on Dec. 8 the full Board voted to buy Oaky Woods on a vote of 11-6. The final hurdle was the review of the State Properties Commission. On Monday, Dec 13, they unanimously approved spending $28.7 million in state bond money on 10,015 acres of Oaky Woods.

So finally, after six years of speculation and doubt, outdoorsmen saw a rare victory of conservation over development, and now a major portion of Oaky Woods WMA will be preserved for all Georgians forever.

The state is paying $2,874 per acre, and that price fell between two appraisals. Developers bought Oaky Woods in 2004; however, when development plans stalled, they started new discussions with the state, and thankfully those discussions where successful. The state was able to purchase the heart of Oaky Woods, which includes perhaps the most important bear habitat. Also purchased was a 50-foot buffer around the perimeter road, plus the check station, workshop areas and additional river lands.

“Since 2003, the state has conserved over 200,000 acres through purchases, donations and easements,” said Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue. “The conservation of Oaky Woods is a terrific addition to the state’s portfolio.”

Kevin Kramer, region supervisor for WRD’s Fort Valley office, said plans for Oaky Woods call for the development of a 50-year management plan that will stress habitat improvement for wildlife. Now that the land is state owned, wildlife management will take a front-row seat, said Kramer.

Raye Jones, Oaky Woods area manager, said that although he is disappointed the state could not buy the entire WMA, he is very pleased that a major portion of the WMA will be preserved forever.

With the state’s purchase of 10,015 acres and 1,117 acres already owned by the state along the Ocmulgee River, Oaky Woods will have 11,132 acres of state owned land. In addition, Houston County owns 1,998 acres that’s included in the WMA, so 13,130 acres are protected.

Initially, the state was only going to have the opportunity to purchase 9,595 acres. However, final negotiations with the owners offered an additional 420 acres.

On the Dec. 1-4 deer hunt, WRD Wildlife Biologist Bobby Bond said 448 hunters took 108 deer, 66 bucks and 42 does, a success ratio of 24.1 percent. The deer population is down slightly from the 1980s when it was in the 28 per-square-mile range, but he now estimates the population is around 20 per square mile. The last deer hunt of the year, a buck-only, sign-in hunt is scheduled for Jan. 1-7, 2011.

Hog hunting continues to be a draw to hunters at Oaky Woods, but on the Dec. 1-4 hunt, only two pigs were checked in. Most hunters reported seeing little hog sign, which is indicative of a lower hog population. Bobby said this probably shows the wild hogs have been hammered by the small-game hunters.

Allen Davis, of Snellville, was trophy hunting and this buck came by his stand three times before he decided to pull the trigger. Allen took the buck during the Dec. 1-4 hunt.

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