WMAs, Wardens On Cut List

Money for WMA leases and operational funds will be reduced, and 17 WRD positions will be lost if proposed budget cuts pass the legislature.

Daryl Kirby | February 26, 2011

The Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) is again being asked by the Governor’s office to reduce its budget. Fewer personnel — law-enforcement officers, game and fish biologists and technicians — would have to do their jobs with less funding. Budget cuts could also mean fewer acres of leased Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).

Budget cuts for state agencies have been an annual process for more than a decade. In the past five years, WRD’s budget has been reduced 28 percent, from $40.7 million to $29.1 million.

“That, my friend, is a heck of a whack,” said Todd Holbrook, deputy commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the parent agency of WRD.

This year, WRD is being asked to cut an additional 4 to 8 percent in its current annual budget (FY 2011), which ends July 1 of this year. WRD will also have to cut between 6 to 10 percent in its 2012 budget, which begins in July. These proposed cuts, if approved by the legislature, will come from a variety of areas, but the three areas that impact sportsmen the most are cuts from operational expenses, less money for WMA leases and the loss of WRD positions.

The cuts in operational expenses could affect a variety of services.

“There’s less money to spend to do the kind of work we like for hunters and fishermen,” Holbrook said. “You have roads you have to grade, gas going in boats and vehicles, new tires — all those kinds of things you have to economize on, and it’s less direct service in the field. Ultimately, you’re going to operate your program the best you can to meet your mission. That could mean an outboard motor really needs to be replaced, but we’re going to make it limp along for another year. It’s the same way you’d deal with your budget at your house.”

While no one will get fired as a result of the proposed budget cuts, 17 positions vacated by retirements will not be filled. Going forward, WRD will have eight fewer people in Law Enforcement, five fewer in Game Management and four fewer in Fisheries Management — those are positions that will be lost.

The proposed budget slashes the WMA lease program by $210,396, which is 23 percent less money than WRD had to lease WMA land the previous year. However, Holbrook said a recent land purchase means the WMA situation isn’t as bad as it sounds.

“Six weeks ago we closed on Oaky Woods. That takes 10,000 acres that we were leasing — at a fairly high rate, $12.50 an acre, the most expensive land we had — it takes it out of the equation. That’s $125,000 of that $210,000 right there.

“That leaves about $90,000 we have to come up with,” Holbrook said. “We’re going to try to negotiate our lease prices down as best we can. If we’re successful, maybe we won’t have to cut anything to get that additional $90,000 — in reality, we’re probably going to have to cut some lease acres to get it. The acres we identify will be based on what’s the best deal for Georgia sportsmen. Losing some acres off the edges of Wildlife Management Areas is not nearly as damaging as losing an entire Wildlife Management Area.”

The FY 2011 WRD budget actually saw an ironic benefit from the election of President Obama. Sportsmen concerned about potential gun-control laws rushed out to buy guns and ammo at a record pace. Excise taxes on all that gear caused what is being called the “Obama Bump.” Georgia WRD and other state wildlife agencies received a one-time jump in this federal excise tax money.

“That money was used for WMA leases instead of operational things, like habitat and hunter-access stuff,” Holbrook said.

This year there isn’t an “Obama Bump,” so WRD will have to lease WMAs and fund operations with less money to work with.

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