By Glenn Dowling
Special to the Courier
ATLANTA — Georgia sportsmen and state programs they depend upon are about to be slammed in the wallet! Their recreation activities will be negatively impacted by threatened cuts in the Georgia Department of Natural Resource budget.
Although potential shutdown of some state parks due to cutbacks has drawn substantial press attention, little has been mentioned about the hunting and fishing programs provided by DNR's Wildlife Resources Division that are in danger.
• Closure of one out of every five Wildlife Management Areas throughout the state. The areas provide excellent habitat for many species and are used by all types of outdoor enthusiasts.
• Shutdown of one of the three state trout hatcheries. This hatchery raises one-third of the trout stocked in Georgia's streams.
• Elimination of 28 wildlife ranger positions. Rangers protect landowners against trespassers, road hunters and other poachers.
These reductions are being considered despite the fact that WRD programs are largely self-sufficient — paid for by sportsmen.
For example, two-thirds of the funding that goes to WRD for the management of wildlife comes from sportsmen who buy hunting and fishing licenses and pay boat registrations. One-third comes from other sources. Sportsmen have been paying for conservation funding in Georgia since the 1930s.
In 1987 sportsmen supported an increase in license fees that resulted in $4.5 million annually to buy land for WMAs and Public Fishing Areas. Thirty million dollars in bonds were sold to buy 60,000 acres of land. These 20-year bonds were paid off in 2007 but the $4.5 million dollars generated annually from the 1987 license increase still flow into the State Treasury.
In addition, changes in the hunting and fishing license system beginning in January 2009 will result in an increase of $800,000 in new money each year to the State Treasury. Moreover, this new system will result in a loss of salaried WRD positions saving the state an additional $300,000. Savings totaling $1.1 million result from this program change alone.
Sportsmen urgently need to contact their state legislators to let them know that sportsmen have made a huge contribution towards the management of wildlife in Georgia through the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses, boat registrations, and excise tax on equipment purchases, To make such deep cuts to important hunting and fishing services and programs paid for by sportsmen is unfair and will result in a loss of areas enjoyed by many Georgians. Sportsmen need to speak up now because the cuts are underway.
Dowling is executive vice president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation,